by Tom Utescher
On the wall of the pavilion at Heritage Hills Golf Resort, all of the individual scores for Mount St. Joseph Academy and Central Valley High School were displayed, except for one. The Mount was in a difficult position as the PIAA Class AAA tournament wound down, but if Central Valley’s number two player came in with a score of 97 or higher, the Magic would repeat as state team champion, taking their fourth title in nine years.
On this chilly, rainy day when most golfers’ scores were dramatically inflated, this was not an entirely unreasonable hope, but it was one that wasn’t realized by the Mounties.
The empty slot was filled in with a 92 for Warriors sophomore Alex Bozich, and her suburban Pittsburgh team became the 2014 champ, edging out Mount St. Joe, 352-356.
This year there was room in the tournament field for several PIAA districts to send their runner-up teams to the state tourney in York, Pa., not just the district champion as in most seasons. Joining the Magic from District 1 was Hatboro Horsham High School, which finished sixth at 433 strokes, just one shot behind District 10 champ McDowell, of Erie. Besides Central Valley, District 7 sent Peters Township High School, which came in third with a score of 373. In fourth place, with a 418, was Central Pennsylvania’s Conrad Weiser, the District 3 champion.
The Magic were led by a six-over-par round of 78 by senior Isabella DiLisio, the 2013 PIAA individual winner and the 2014 Pennsylvania Amateur champion. The team’s other senior co-captain, Maggie Schoeller, shot a 90, and in the tournament’s play-five, count-four format, Mount St. Joe’s team tally was completed by a 93 from Megan Bray and a 95 from Joanie Gannon, both juniors who played in the 2013 tourney, as well.
Central Valley junior Maddy McDaniel led her team with a 75, quite impressive given the course conditions. Along with the 92 from Bozich, the Warriors scored an 89 from senior Amanda Scala and a 96 from sophomore Krista Sudar.
Even during a practice round the day before the competition, second-year Mount head coach Michael Brown felt the course was not set up well for female golfers, especially in light of the wet weather promised for the following morning. The tees were too far back, in his opinion.
“Boys tend to hit the ball just as far as usual when it’s cold and wet and there’s no roll,” observed Brown, a former Division I college player and coach. “The girls will play about 20 percent shorter, and most of them can’t carry the hazards they would normally clear. I think when you saw the scores, they bore that out.”
Even on hard-hit drives, the balls hardly budged once they fell to earth. Course custodians were patrolling the greens with squeegees, and there were hazards within hazards, as water pooled in the sand traps. Even in sections of the traps that were above water, the sand had taken on the adhesive properties of mud, and getting out was quite a chore.
Late in the day the rain tapered off, but the wind picked up. In all, the course took six-and-a-half hours for most players to complete.
“I guess the word that first comes to mind is disappointment,” Coach Brown commented. “Everything else aside, we just needed to play a little bit better; you needed to fight through it and on this given day Central Valley did a better job of that. Everyone had to cope with the same things, but I think the weather conditions took the fun out of it. It became a test of wills instead of a test of golf skills.”
Brown was particularly impressed by the effort put forth by an athlete who is not one of his leading stars.
“A lot of these players are hitting the ball 220-240 yards, and Joanie Gannon only goes about 150,” he pointed out. “She’s playing a 5800-yard course with no roll, and she ground it out for a 95. That to me is an amazing accomplishment.”
Under more normal conditions, the Mounties had encountered Central Valley back in the middle of September, when the two squads were among a group of top teams around the state that participated in the annual Central Dauphin Classic in Harrisburg. With the same four players scoring for each team as in last week’s state tourney, Mount St. Joe won the Central Dauphin event by 17 strokes.
There were a lot of differences in player performances between that event and the state tourney, and Brown mentioned one in particular. Central Valley’s lone senior, Scala, had turned in a score of 100 in benign circumstances at Central Dauphin. In the slop at Heritage Hills, she came through with the Warriors’ second-best score, an 89.
“That’s an 11-shot improvement on a tough day,” said the Mount St. Joe mentor. “You could say that she won the tournament for them.”
The Mount’s individual talent ran deep this year, and if the scores of all five players who competed in York had been figured into the team scores, the Magic would’ve been in good shape. Their number five on this day, sophomore Caitlin Mahon, came in with a 102, while Central Valley’s unofficial round was a 119.
As they’ve done for many years, the Magic rolled over their Catholic Academies opponents this fall, going undefeated in regular season matches and then winning the league tournament for the 12th year in a row. The AACA tourney showcased of the depth of the MSJ program. The participants in addition to the five States players were juniors Maya Boston and Claire Brown (Coach Brown’s daughter) and freshman Maya Trujillo. At par-35 Honeybrook Golf Club, the eight Mounties engineered a nine-hole average of under 40 strokes.
Next, they successfully defended their 2013 team title at the District 1 championships, coming in 40 strokes ahead of the runner-up. This meant the Mounties would be back in York on October 22 to try and repeat as state team champion.
The first hint of trouble came on October 14 at the PIAA’s East Individual Regional tournament, where individual golfers who’d advanced out of the various district playoffs in the eastern half of the state would try to qualify for the individual state tourney.
The Mount’s entry, DiLisio, had gotten in easily, finishing second in District 1 by one stroke to defending champ Jackie Rogowicz of Pennsbury High School.
Uncharacteristically, the Mount’s senior standout struggled mightily at Regionals and never got on track. She finished two strokes shy of the qualifying cut-off for the big dance in York, where the individual tournament was staged on October 20 and 21 and was won by Radnor High School junior Brynn Walker.
Although the 2014 campaign didn’t end up quite as they’d hoped, the Mounties still enjoyed a stellar season.
It brought to mind the 2007-2008 season in the NFL for Brown, who said, “It’s like the Patriots going undefeated the whole year and then losing to the Giants at the end.
“We had a great group of kids who worked hard all year and got so much better,” he continued. “Everyone improved from last year, and some of them made huge strides. If that continues, we’ll be right back in contention next year, even though we’re losing Izzy and Maggie. The whole team came out to States, so they saw what it takes, and they saw that this is another step up from what goes on the rest of the season.”
DiLisio already committed to the University of Notre Dame last year, while Schoeller, one of the top students at the Mount, is mulling over some Ivy League schools, among others.
“Our seniors certainly upheld the Mount tradition in golf,” Brown remarked. “In our league, they were 48-1 for their four years, and they were on teams that finished first and second in the state.”
He spoke movingly about DiLisio, relating that she never let all of her individual laurels go to her head.
“Isabella always treated all of her teammates the same, not just the ones with the most talent and the most promise,” the coach said. “She always made time to help the younger kids, and you don’t see that with everyone on her level. She is a very, very special kid.”