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Rivendell Golfers Look to Defend Title

  • Luke Bell of Orford stretches out before starting nine holes during a match with Green Mountain and Springfield at Lake Morey Country Club in Fairlee Thursday, May 15, 2014. Bell is Rivendell's starting catcher on the baseball team and ranks number two on the golf team. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Luke Bell of Orford stretches out before starting nine holes during a match with Green Mountain and Springfield at Lake Morey Country Club in Fairlee Thursday, May 15, 2014. Bell is Rivendell's starting catcher on the baseball team and ranks number two on the golf team.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Luke Bell of Rivendell Academy checks the distance to the pin from the fairway on hole three at Lake Morey Country Club in Fairlee Thursday, May 15, 2014. Bell finished three over par for 37 and came in third during the match with Green Mountain and Springfield. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Luke Bell of Rivendell Academy checks the distance to the pin from the fairway on hole three at Lake Morey Country Club in Fairlee Thursday, May 15, 2014. Bell finished three over par for 37 and came in third during the match with Green Mountain and Springfield.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Luke Bell of Orford stretches out before starting nine holes during a match with Green Mountain and Springfield at Lake Morey Country Club in Fairlee Thursday, May 15, 2014. Bell is Rivendell's starting catcher on the baseball team and ranks number two on the golf team. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Luke Bell of Rivendell Academy checks the distance to the pin from the fairway on hole three at Lake Morey Country Club in Fairlee Thursday, May 15, 2014. Bell finished three over par for 37 and came in third during the match with Green Mountain and Springfield. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Fairlee — As state title defenses go, the Rivendell Academy golf team hasn’t exactly gone by the textbook.

Such a tome wouldn’t necessarily call for one of the team’s seniors to split his time between two pursuits. Unless it was a novel, it also wouldn’t call for the Raptors to be less of a team for half of the season following their state championship.

The full picture finally formed on Thursday, with Rivendell hosting Green Mountain and Springfield in a nine-hole match on Lake Morey Country Club’s front nine. The Raptors — two absent golfers reunited with three regulars — were geeked up for it, and so was eighth-year coach Justin Bonnett.

“The song’s by Thin Lizzy,” Bonnett confessed of his choice of The Boys Are Back in Town as a warm-up tune for Thursday’s round. “It’s a classic, and it stuck with the kids. They were singing it out there with me — the chorus, at least — and it stuck in their heads.

“I had one of the kids download the mp3, and we cranked it on the cellphone to get us ready to go today. Special moment.”

Rivendell had one such moment a little less than a year ago, winning the school’s first championship in a boys team sport in last June’s Vermont Division III state golf tournament at Woodstock Country Club. The Raptors returned as a favorite to defend, with all but one golfer from last spring’s squad back for this spring’s run at a repeat.

But it’s been interesting. The first test came during the winter, when senior Luke Bell decided to add varsity baseball to his spring repertoire. Bonnett had some reservations but approved Bell’s decision on the promise that he’d make golf a priority when conflicts arose.

Bell has done just that. Although the links remain his “passion,” as he put it, returning to the diamond for the first time since middle school has been rewarding, and not just because of a 6-3 record and a top-six standing in D-III.

“Everyone says, senior year, your last (chance) to do everything; it’s what kind of got into my head,” Bell said. “Kindergarten through eighth grade, I loved baseball. It was one of my favorite sports. I wanted to play this year because I didn’t want to leave anything behind that I might regret.”

The timing worked. Joining a squad that went 7-9 in 2013, exited the state tourney in the first round and graduated its catcher, Bell stepped back into the game by stepping back behind the plate. Many of Bell’s best friends play baseball, which was also a motivating factor in a comeback.

“I’ve thrown around with my cousins for family stuff, so I feel like it’s one of those things that I never really forgot how to do,” Bell said. “When I took batting practice at first, that was a little different because I definitely had a golf swing going on. But, for the most part, all of the fielding and the technical stuff stayed in my head.”

When golf and baseball collide, Bell chooses golf. His school schedule helps: With no class to attend after around 1:30 p.m., Bell can hustle over to Lake Morey for some golf practice before returning to Orford for baseball coach Eric Reichert.

“He has a close-knit group of buddies who play baseball, and he kind of felt pulled away from that on the golf side,” Bonnett said. “I respect that. I think that’s great. …

“He’s a leader of this golf team, all the boys look up to him and he’s a phenomenal golfer. It was a big worry for me that he wasn’t going to put the time in that he needed for golf and that he was going to get lost in baseball with his friends, but he’s really manned up, so to speak, and been able to juggle both tremendously well.”

Challenge No. 2 ended on Thursday. Prior to then, the Rivendell golf team lacked the fourth player required to post a score in matches with Bell and teammates Sam Kamel and Ryan Landgraf. The returns of Josh Marshall and Jake Perkins from a four-match absence for violating the school conduct code made the Raptors whole again.

Even individually, the scores have been solid. Bell, Kamel and Landgraf all broke 40 on Okemo Valley Golf Club’s back nine during a Monday match. They repeated the feat on Thursday on Lake Morey’s front side, with Marshall joining them on a team tally of 150.

That’s for nine holes. Now double that for 18. Add some strokes because next month’s state tournament will be held at the Country Club of Vermont, a track Bell termed “an animal (of a) course.” That still puts the Raptors — who shot a team 356 in winning last year at Woodstock CC — as a frontrunner in D-III and a hypothetical peer to bigger D-I and D-II schools.

But only because they’re finally a full team again.

“It’s not the same when you’re not competing as a team, because it doesn’t really feel like you’re playing for anything,” Bell said. “Competition as a team really gets you going and motivates you to want to win another state championship. I’m just glad that, now that everyone’s back, we have the opportunity to do that.”

The boys are back in town.

Chip Shots: Springfield’s Alex Rumrill shot a 1-over-par 35 to win the individual medal by a shot over Landgraf on Thursday. Rivendell golfers took the next three spots with Bell (37), Marshall (38) and Kamel (39). … The Raptors’ 150 “is our best team score since I was a freshman,” Bell noted. The Cosmos took second at 166, with Green Mountain trailing at 194. … Rivendell will host Oxbow in a head-to-head encounter at Lake Morey this afternoon.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.