Kori Grasha says she didn’t feel any pressure when she took over as the Clarence High girls golf coach in 2016. The truth is, she wasn’t even aware of the winning streak.
All she knew was she loved golf and was lucky to inherit such a terrific squad. Sure, she knew the Red Devils were a cut above, and that they rarely lost a match. But the streak wasn’t a big thing back then. It’s not as if girls high school golf was a hot topic of discussion in local sports.
Then, as girls golf took off, people began to notice.
“It started becoming fun each year,” Grasha recalled, “to try to continue the undefeated seasons. The girls started to add it up — 80 wins, 90 wins, then we were pushing 100. It was, ‘Oh, we’re going to do something that probably hasn’t been done before.’ It was more fun than pressure.”
The fun continues for the Clarence girls, who haven’t lost a single match since the golf program began in 2010 and have won all four Section VI team titles since they added girls’ golf. The streak stands at 12 years, going on 13. On Tuesday at Brookfield Country Club, their home course, they beat Orchard Park for their fifth win of the season and 126th in a row overall.
“They’re aware of it,” Grasha said, “and they’re very excited to keep the streak going. We talk a lot, though, that anybody can beat anybody on any given day. So, we can’t take any team or any match for granted.”
Still, it can be tempting to assume victory when your matches are so consistently one-sided. Clarence beat Orchard Park on Tuesday, 166-245. That’s roughly the average score of their five wins this fall. A team plays five girls, and the low four scores count for the nine-hole match.
That means the top four Clarence girls averaged 41.5 for nine holes, the OP girls 61.25. The Red Devils have five of the top 10 players in the Section VI standings — Tatiana Tutko, Rosalie Dinunzio, Kylie Dean, Juliana Enser and Emily Morelli. Tutko, an eighth-grader, leads the league with a 40.0 scoring average for nine. Dinunzio, a senior, is second at 40.2 strokes.
“It is so awesome,” said Dinunzio, who plans to play golf in college next year. “I love all the girls, the relationships we’ve built, especially this year. We’re a great group. We all love to compete, and I just love being a part of it.”
Grasha, who recently won the women’s club championship at Pendleton Creek, seems sensitive to the idea that she coaches a bunch of privileged country club kids. Her girls do play a lot. Most of them have swing coaches. But the main reason they win is because they work hard at it.
“We do,” Dinunzio said. “We put in the work. I hate to sound cocky, but we do deserve what we’ve got, this reputation.”
Clarence has set a high bar for local girls’ golf, a standard that other high schools can shoot for in a sport that has been growing rapidly among females in the United States.
“Girls are the fastest growing segment in golf over the last 10 years,” said Marlene Davis, the long-time local instructor who has run an LPGA/USGA girls’ program since 2012.
Davis has taught several of the Clarence girls over the years, including Tutko, who she calls “small but mighty.” On Wednesday, Davis went to Orchard Park to give a clinic for the OP girls, one day after they took a beating from the Clarence girls at Brookfield.
The OP girls knew what they were in for. This is only the second year that Orchard Park has had a girls’ team, hard to believe for a school with such a strong athletic reputation. Before Tuesday’s match, coach Joe Biondo reminded his players that their team low for the year was 211. Beating their own team record was the objective, not upsetting the indomitable Red Devils.
“I remember after our match last year, our girls were like, ‘Oh, these girls are really good!’” said Biondo, the sectional girls golf chairman. “I said, ‘How much extra time do you think they’ve put into their golf game to get that good?’
“So, I think it motivates them. I know when we golfed against them last year, it motivated a couple of kids on our team. It’s a good thing. I think it’s great. Some people want to ‘quote unquote’ level the playing field. My feeling would be, well, let’s get to the playing field.”
Biondo compared the Clarence streak to epic streaks by the Sweet Home girls volleyball team and the Orchard Park boys lacrosse squad in previous eras. Or the UConn women’s basketball team. Those dominant teams raise the level of the teams around them, elevate their sport.
“The girls are hoping that because they’re in the news, and they have a nice little legacy going, that it is something that other girls will want to become involved with,” Grasha said.
“I wish there were more schools that had teams,” she said, “because it’s such a unique opportunity for the girls. You don’t have to be the best athlete out there. You don’t have to be the toughest kid. But it provides the girls an opportunity to be athletic, to have fun, to be good at something and find a little niche for themselves.
“My girls, they play a lot. They go to a lot of tournaments. They take private lessons. They’re working hard and they want to win. And I don’t think they let it consume them. This year, they’re so much into their team bonding and team spirit.”
They’re still kids, as Grasha reminds the parents now and then. She’s especially proud of how her players conduct themselves, how gracious they are with the opposing girls. Biondo said his girls were struck by how nice the Clarence girls were last year. He said they’d be happy to play them five times a year, despite losing. You can’t beat the snacks, that’s for sure.
That doesn’t mean they’re not fiercely competitive. Grasha, 44, is a terrific athlete. She played softball and racquetball as a girl. When she was a 17-year-old freshman at Canisius College, Kori was ranked sixth in the country among women 18 and under, and made the national junior team.
Grasha took up golf late in life, and she loved it. Her father, Art, told her she should join a club if she wanted to be really good. So, in 2010 she joined Tan Tara — what is now Pendleton Creek. She stopped playing racquetball after suffering a shoulder injury and concentrated on golf.
“I loved it,” she said, “and I loved that it was something I could do with my dad, because I had played racquetball with my dad. And it’s just a little bit of my personality, I don’t want to be bad at things. Of course, I am bad at lots of things.”
Coaching came naturally. Grasha teaches Latin at Clarence High. She knows how to reach the kids. Riding around with her in the golf cart on Tuesday, you saw her easy, reassuring manner with the players. When they needed encouragement or a tip on how to play a hole, she was out of the cart and helping. But golf is an essentially solitary pursuit, and mainly she lets them find their way.
Golf humbles us all. It is not a game of perfection, but a test of your ability to persevere in the fact of inevitable disappointment. It can be hard for kids. It’s hard for everyone.
“I tell the girls, ‘I want to see you win,'” Grasha said. “I know you want to win. I want to see you accomplish your goals. But I just want you to have fun out there. Some of the best rounds I’ve played were when I was having the most fun.”
Winning is always fun, but it’s even more so when you have your own little girl to come home to. Grasha has a 2-year-old daughter, Gianna.
“Oh, I love it!” she said. “It was definitely an adjustment being 42 and being used to doing my own thing for a long time. But I love it. I wouldn’t trade it. I waited a long time to meet my Prince Charming (fiancé T.J. Geraci). We’re very lucky.”
Grasha said having a 2-year-old allows her to see the world through a child’s innocent eyes. It’s a lot different from teenagers, but it reminds her to make it fun for the girls, to do more child-like stuff and “get back to that youthfulness.”
They have spirit days and team bonding outings. On Friday, she’ll take the team for some night golf at Bob-o-Link, the par-3, 18-hole course in Orchard Park that has been offering golf under the lights for more than half a century.
It’s too bad her father couldn’t be around to share it. Art Grasha died in January of 2021.
“My dad was my person,” Grasha said. “He was an athlete. He played a lot of softball and basketball when he was younger. He played a lot of golf and racquetball. I spent so many hours with my father. So not having him here, it’s tough. When he was alive, he used to come out to our matches and see the girls and it was nice to have him out there.”
Art loved being on a golf course, just like his daughter. As any golf lover would tell you, the game itself is an endless joy, and every day on the course a blessing. It’s the one streak that never ends.
Jerry Sullivan is an award-winning journalist who joined the News 4 team in 2020 after three decades as a sports columnist at The Buffalo News. See more of his work here.