EL happy to follow its golf leader

East Lyme senior Fran Shields, who led the Vikings to the ECC Large title last week, caps his conference career today at the ECC Open.
East Lyme senior Fran Shields, who led the Vikings to the ECC Large title last week, caps his conference career today at the ECC Open. Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo

Senior Fran Shields is more than just the No. 1 golfer on the East Lyme High School golf team.

He's a respected team leader.

He's a cheerleader.

He's the entertainment chairman.

He's a major reason why the Vikings are enjoying their best season in recent years and considered a contender for the team title at today's Eastern Connecticut Conference Open, which tees off at 12:30 p.m. at Quinnatisset Country Club in Thompson.

"He's just got a presence," coach Rudy Bagos said. "Our juniors look up to him. He gets the team ready to play."

Bagos saw the potential in Shields as a team leader early in the golfer's career, naming him a captain as a sophomore.

It just seemed like a smart choice.

"The team was young and I didn't have anyone returning," Bagos said. "I had a couple of seniors on the team, but they were new to the program. And Fran had a great freshman year. ... Right off the bat, he was just a great, great captain."

Since Shields joined, the Vikings have gradually improved. By last year, they climbed into the middle of the pack. They're 16-1 overall heading into today's tournament.

Bagos gradually brought along the talented class of Drew Bradley, Zach Kosakowski and Connor Callaghan.

Now juniors, the three golfers combine with Shields to form a lethal and balanced top four.

Last week, East Lyme delivered two impressive performances in pressure-packed matches. The Vikings placed fourth overall in the Wildcat Invitational, with Shields leading the way, shooting an 82 to take fourth.

A few days later, the Vikings returned to Mohegan Sun Country Club at Pautipaug to beat Norwich Free Academy and clinch their first ECC Large Divison title since 2009. Shields was the medalist.

"It's a dream" Shields said of his senior season. "I couldn't wish for anything more. I'm so proud of these guys."

In both matches, Shields was there to greet his teammates when they came off the final green.

Prior to every match, he wishes his teammates luck and sends them off with a fist-pump.

"I try to keep the guys composed and keep them positive," Shields said. "If you come here with a negative attitude, you're not going to score well.

"... I'm the senior leader of the team. Regardless whether they shoot a 55 or 39, I'm going to give them a high five and tell them they did the best that they could."

On van trips, Shields keeps his teammates entertained, giving them a pep talk and firing off lines from the movie, "Happy Gilmore."

"I've had real good players before, but I've never had good players who are good captains," Bagos said. "He's been both. It's been nice."

Shields has worked hard to improve his game. He puts in extra hours. He's shaken a sluggish start this season, rebounding to post his best scores in the biggest matches.

Credit him for helping his teammates, too. He organizes weekend trips to the range or to play a round. He also offers helpful advice.

"We all look up to him," Callaghan said. "As a captain, he's always been putting up good scores and he gives little tips on your game. He knows the little things that you can do to fix your swing.

"I was coming in with some high scores and he just gave me a little tip to drop my elbow and it helped me put up some good scores at Fishers (Island) and Wildcat."

Shields will continue his golf career in college, playing at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. Both his father, current Connecticut College athletic director Fran Shields, and grandfather graduated from there.

Bagos sees a promising future for Shields.

"He just lives the game and loves it," Bagos said. "What he'll be exposed to in college will only make him better."

Leave it to Shields to put things in prospective.

"It's a great school," Shields said. "I go in saying golf is not the first priority. I'm going to get an education there. I'm going to major in economics and get my degree and go from there."

g.keefe@theday.com

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