Several of the county’s top golfers from 2016 have left for college, but an influx of young talent should keep area teams competitive this season.
Philipsburg-Osceola’s boys were undefeated in the Mountain League last year — and won District 6 — but lost a number of important seniors. Still, the future remains bright as every golfer on the roster is an underclassman. Every golfer on St. Joseph’s will return again next season, and the State College girls will lose just one senior in 2018.
For many teams, this is a season that will be defined by critical transitions. But departing players haven’t diminished expectations, either.
These groups aren’t ready to settle, and 2017 has the potential to be brimming with surprises.
Bald Eagle Area boys
This is Year 3 for the Eagles program — and just its second season with a coach — and it’s clear progress has been made.
Last season, just three golfers came out for the team. This year, that number’s nearly tripled with eight total golfers.
“Honestly, the more people you get, the more interest you get,” coach Zach Rote said. “We have a good atmosphere when we go to the course.”
The Eagles didn’t win a match last season — because they needed four scores to essentially qualify. This season, that certainly has the potential to change.
With six newcomers, a lot of young players will turn to Nick Smith and Logan Fetzer for leadership. Smith is the projected No. 1 golfer and went back and forth on cracking 100 in 2016. Luke Barnhart, a freshman has the ability to contribute right away.
Bald Eagle Area may still be a few seasons from competing in the Mountain League as a team, but Rote sees individual talent that could advance this postseason.
“I’ve love to see someone qualify for districts this year,” he said. “Last year, we didn’t have that — so I’d love to see one or two qualify. Luke has a good chance, and Nick has a good chance.”
The Red Raiders boast a solid 1-2 punch this season in Adam Armstrong and Payne McCartney, but it’s those other two spots that have the question marks.
Armstrong and McCartney — named after the late PGA golfer Payne Stewart — can hang with most anyone in the Mountain League. But no other Bellefonte golfer broke 100 in the first tournament of the season.
Still, coach Kevin Harman sees a lot of improvement from last year. Back then, Armstrong and McCartney were both in their first seasons with the team.
“I’d like to be in the top third of the Mountain League,” Harman said. “That’s my goal this year.”
One newcomer to keep an eye on will be freshman Joseph Bruni, who Harman believes might have the potential to sneak into the No. 2 for Bellefonte at times. He’s relatively new to the game, but he’s shown more consistency and potential in his approach shots than most golfers his age.
“He did good in qualifying; I’m happy he’s here,” McCartney said, referring to Bruni. “I’d like to see some of the younger guys step up and help our score out a little bit.”
Penns Valley boys
The Rams finished just under .500 last season in the Mountain League — but a cautious optimism is surrounding the program this season.
Four letterwinners return from 2016, including Penns Valley’s top-2 golfers in Ryan Johnson and Jesse Darlington.
“We want to be in the top third for the season,” coach Chris Dobson said. “We’d like to take the team to sectionals — and, hopefully, beyond sectionals.”
Ryan has dramatically improved his short game, while Darlington has taken about 15 strokes off his scorecard from this time last year.
All four returning golfers have the ability to consistently break 100 — all four did exactly that at the Happy Valley Invitational — and two key newcomers, Justin Darlington and Logan Jones, will only add to the depth.
“We’re looking good this year,” Johnson added. “We’re shooting some good scores, so we’re looking for a good season.”
The Mounties are coming off a year in which they finished sixth in the state tournament — but even the current golfers know this season is very different.
“This year’s kind of a rebuilding season,” sophomore Brandon Singer said. “We lost four players who could hit in the 70s if they played well.”
Talent and depth aren’t issues for Philipsburg-Osceola, as there are at least five newcomers with plenty of potential. But every golfer currently on the roster is an underclassman.
That bodes well for the next two seasons. But, as Singer alluded, that means the 2017 season could be filled with a few speed bumps as the young group tries to improve on its course management.
Last season, Singer was the Mounties’ No. 5 golfer and usually carded around a 95. This season, he’s improved to the point where he can reach the high-70s, but coach Jordan Albright anticipates the No. 5 player this season hitting between 100-115 early in the year.
“As the season progresses, that obviously changes,” Albright said. “Hopefully, we can eventually get all five under 100.”
St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy
The Wolves have just about everything they need for a memorable 2017 season — except a coach.
Former coach Adam Corson resigned late in the offseason to pursue other opportunities, so St. Joseph’s athletic director and assistant athletic director — Chad Walsh and Richard Ciambotti — are both taking over as the “interim golf coordinators.” They’re also bringing in experts, such as the pro at Mountain View, to offer pointers to their athletes once or twice a week.
That hasn’t tempered future expectations.
“Our goal is to win districts at the Double-A level,” Walsh said. “We want to win District 6 as a team and, over the next couple of years with this core, we think we have a very good shot.”
It’s easy to see why. Jack Mangene and Matt Steyers, both juniors, have the ability to consistently shoot in the 70s and two others — Ryan Peachey and R.J. Marsh, also juniors — tend to score around the mid-80s.
Walsh also said his team boasts about a half-dozen freshmen, including Nathan Cross who has the potential to contribute this season. Two girls are also on the team, sophomore Sophia Mochan and junior Anna Aiello, and Mochan might occasionally contribute to the team score as well.
Mangene and Steyers both qualified for districts last season, so there’s obviously talent here. Walsh said they’ll find a coach for next season but, this year, the team will rely on outside instruction and leadership from the upperclassmen.
“We have some younger guys who maybe played a round or two in their life and then we have some older guys who contributed for three seasons and play anytime there’s not snow on the ground,” Walsh said. “So we’ve got a really big mix. ... We’ll look to solidify a replacement sometime through the winter.”
State College boys
If the Little Lions can overcome one key departure from last season, it could compete for districts.
There’s just one small problem: That graduate, Christian Friberg, also happened to finish No. 2 in scoring in the Mid Penn and finished as the district runner-up. Still, coach Greg Wilson was quick to note that he boasts seven returning letterwinners this season — four of whom are seniors.
“When we won districts two years ago, we were senior-loaded too,” Wilson added. “That maturity level makes all the difference.”
Alex Stewart should take over that No. 1 spot; he’s a long hitter who can reach Par 5s in two strokes. Tyler Nordblom is also an impressive talent; he tends to play another nine holes after the team leaves following its usual 18.
“I can see him playing at the next level,” Wilson said.
The Little Lions have seven golfers who can consistently break 100, and all are capable of dipping into the 80s. So expectations remain high.
Some of the returning Lady Red Raiders took golf lessons over the summer; others decided to practice a bit more than past seasons. And coach Jayme Zimmerman is hoping that extra work pays off on the course.
“I think we stand a strong chance to be competitive this year,” said Zimmerman, whose team was winless in the Mountain League last season. “They’re hitting the balls more consistently, and they’re more excited about this year.”
Several Bellefonte golfers hit in the 60s last year over nine holes and this season, Zimmerman said, those same golfers are able to hit in the low 50s. Cassy Vogel has been most impressive in this early going, as she tallied a 91 at the Happy Valley Invitational.
Bellefonte is at a distinct disadvantage as one of the smaller schools playing Class 3A golf. So any impact will have to come at the Mountain League level. It finished just five shots behind Philipsburg-Osceola in the first tournament of the season.
“Last year, we would have never been able to play an 18-hole match this early in the season,” Zimmerman added.
Penns Valley girls
Coach Chris Dobson still remembers looking back on Rams yearbooks and spotting a dozen girls on the golf team — and he wanted to bring that history back.
So, at Dobson’s insistence, Penns Valley has now officially re-started its girls’ golf program.
There are just three girls on this year’s squad — Isabella Racette is the No. 1 — but Dobson know the team had to start somewhere. And the potential for growth was limited if the girls would’ve been forced to continue to practice, and play, with the boys.
“It’s just tough sometimes to compete, length-wise, with the boys,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to field a girls’ team for Penns Valley.”
Dobson’s expectations for this year’s squad are tempered. He’s simply hoping to set a foundation for future success — and get more girls to come out in the near future.
Halle Herrington isn’t shy about her goal this season: Make states.
She missed the cut last season by about three strokes. But she’s been practicing her swing nearly every day over the summer, and her coach has seen the difference. She carded a 77 during a memorial golf tournament at Altoona’s Park Hills Country Club, and she shot a 90 in the first high school tournament of the year at the Penn State Blue Golf Course.
“She blows me away,” coach Steve Torquato said. “I wish I was that athletic. Anything that girl touches athletically, she just excels at it. It’s phenomenal to see.”
P-O is hoping to repeat as Mountain League champs, but it loses last season’s No. 2 golfer in Julia Burns — someone who really acted as the glue to the team. The depth should at least be improved, however, as P-O boasts more golfers than last year.
“I think we’ll do good this year,” Herrington added. “We only lost one senior, and she was pretty good — but we have two girls coming up, which should contribute a lot.”
State College girls
The Lady Little Lions are the reigning District 6 champions — but coach Ken Miller knows it’s going to be a lot more difficult to repeat in 2017.
With two key losses, and just one returning senior, this team will have to mature in a hurry to live up to last year’s accomplishments.
“It’s going to be a tough season for us,” Miller acknowledged, “but what we’re going to try and do is improve every match and get the kids better. When you’ve got two (returning)sophomores and a freshman, the better days are ahead.”
One big reason for that future optimism is Kaylee Richards, a sophomore who might already be the top girls’ golfer in the area. Out of the 35-girl field in the Happy Valley Invitational, she placed fourth overall with an 84 — which was also tops among the local teams.
Richards has the ability to hit in the high-70s, and Miller believes she’s already prepared to compete for the individual district crown.
“No one works harder than she does,” Miller added.
State College shouldn’t have a problem with depth moving forward, as it had three more girls join the team a week ago. It has potential; it’s just hoping to put that all together this season.
Bald Eagle Area
Head coach: Zach Rote (second season)
Last season: 0-21 (Mountain League)
Key losses: None
Returning letterwinners: Nick Smith, Logan Fetzer
Key newcomers: Luke Barnhart
Head coach: Kevin Harman (seventh season)
Last season: 6-15 (Mountain League)
Key loss: Jordan Emely
Returning letterwinners: Adam Armstrong, Payne McCartney, Cameron McKee, Nolan Burgess, Mason Keeler
Key newcomers: Joseph Bruni, Austin Knapp, Gunner Fravel, Gavin Fravel
Head coach: Jayme Zimmerman (4th season)
Last season: 0-8 (Mountain League)
Key losses: None
Returning letterwinners: Cassy Vogel, Avery Abersold, Keeli Pighetti, Lizzie Giacobe, Halle Mitchell
Key newcomer: Hannah Thomas
Head coach: Chris Dobson (second season)
Last season: 9-12 (Mountain League)
Key losses: David Krum, Patrick Slavinsky
Returning letterwinners: Ryan Johnson, Jesse Darlington, Cameron Shaffer, Calvin Russell
Key newcomers: Justin Darlington, Logan Jones
Girls (first year of program)
Newcomers: Lydia Boeckel, Brianna Morgan, Isabella Racette
Head coach: Jordan Albright (second season)
Last season: 21-0 (Mountain League)
Key losses: Carter Fischer, Payton Guelich, Tyler Singer, Jared Anderson
Returning letterwinners: Brandon Singer, Ky Bender
Key newcomers: Tyler Doyle, Tyson Lamb, Chad Frank, Trent Butler, Jake Vaux
Head coach: Steve Torquato (second season)
Last season: 8-0 (Mountain League)
Key losses: Julia Burns
Returning letterwinners: Lacey Potter, Mackenzie Podliski, Halle Herrington
Key newcomers: Lindsey Bordas, Katie Lingle
St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy
Interim coordinators: Chad Walsh, Richard Ciambotti (first seasons)
Key loss: Nick Shearer
Returning letterwiners: Jack Mangene, Matt Steyers, Ryan Peachey, R.J. Marsh, Nick DeCarmine, Jason Thomas, Sophia Mochan
Key newcomers: Nathan Cross, Anna Aiello
Head coach: Greg Wilson (third season)
Last season: 12-8 (Mid Penn)
Key loss: Christian Friberg
Returning letterwinners: Ryan Battista, Tyler Nordblom, Alex Stewart, Max Walker, Matt Tomczuk, Joel Prisk, Ethan Sims
Key newcomers: Josh Davis
Head coach: Ken Miller (16th season)
Key losses: Maddie Czekaj, Kristen Nodell
Returning letterwinners: Jamie Bachman, Sydney Brooks, Kaylee Richards
Key newcomers: Riley Kracaw, Katie Cepullio