by Tom Utescher
For the third year in a row, the Mount St. Joseph Academy golf team won the PIAA District 1 title and was able to make the late-October trek out to York, Pa. for the PIAA state championships.
In 2013, the Magic won the Class AAA (large school) team championship for the first time since the school’s title years of 2006 and 2007. They finished a very close second last year, and last Thursday the Mounties were the runner-up team again in the single-day 18-hole tournament at Heritage Hills Golf Resort.
With the top four scores of out of each team’s five participants making up the team score, the Mount finished with a total of 376 while North Allegheny High School, the champions of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s District 7, won in a convincing manner with a tally of 353 strokes. The real drama in the team competition stemmed from the race for second place between Mount St. Joseph and another District 7 team, Peter’s Township, which came in just one point behind the locals at 377.
Representing the northwest corner of the state, District 10 champ McDowell High School of Erie wasn’t far off the pace at 383. The Mount’s District 1 colleague, Hatboro Horsham, came in fifth at 408, and the third East Region entry, District 2’s Tunkhannock High, was overmatched in this group, scoring a 475.
When the Magic won the team title in 2013, then-junior Isabella DiLisio also won the individual championship. She had a bad day at qualifying last year and did not get into the 2014 individual tournament, and this fall she was off enjoying a successful freshman season with the varsity squad at Notre Dame.
Last week in York, Radnor High School senior Brynn Walker repeated as individual champ, and because the Raiders no long field an official girls team, she played with the boys in the team competition. The North Carolina recruit outscored every male player in the team tourney, shooting a 73 to lead her school to the 2015 championship.
Team play was to have taken place on Wednesday, but was postponed to the following day due to heavy rains at midweek. Inbounds areas of the course had dried out by Thursday, but third-year MSJ coach Michael Brown noted that there were a lot of puddles around the verge of the course and some of the bunkers were a mess. In addition, it was a windy day, with frequent gusts up to 35 mph.
“Kids who are good players were three-putting and four-putting,” said the Magic’s mentor.
Brown’s bunch had won the school’s 13th-straight Catholic Academies championship in early October, and took a third-straight District 1 team title in the middle of the month. There were no superstars like DiLisio on the roster this year, but there was good depth on the squad. Four different girls were the low scorers multiple times in regular-season and playoff matches.
Senior Megan Bray, who had tied for the individual league championship, led the Magic out in York with a score of 89 on the par-72 circuit, parring seven holes under difficult conditions. Junior Caitlin Mahon was just one stroke back with a 90, and Bray’s fellow senior co-captain, Claire Brown (Coach Brown’s daughter), shot a 98.
The Magic’s team tally was completed by a 99 from senior Joanie Gannon who, like Bray, was playing in her third state tournament. Gannon is a four-time all-league golfer, and in qualifying play for the district tournament, she led the field with a score of 73.
The fifth Mount player at York last week was senior Mara Boston, who reached the clubhouse in 110 strokes, and making the trip as the team’s alternate was junior Alex Mercader, who came on strong late in the season.
“We needed to play our best and we didn’t perform at our highest level,” Brown noted. “The team from North Allegheny was really good; two of their players had also qualified for the individual state tournament.”
For some reason, good weather is a rarity at Heritage Hills for the PIAA contests; it seems to always be excessively windy or excessively rainy, or both. Sometimes, chilly temperatures add to the fun.
In addition, Brown reported, “The course was set up in a very difficult manner – the pin placement was crazy. Out of the two classes (AA and the Mount’s AAA category), you had a total of only 23 out of nearly 60 girls break 100. That’s really not any fun for the kids and you could see the girls on some teams become demoralized. Our team kept fighting through, although they had some bad stretches.”
Unlike most of the other teams, including the Mount, North Allegheny had better scores on the back nine than on the front side.
“On the back side you had to be able to hit the ball hard,” Brown explained. “North Allegheny had good ball-strikers, so that helped them.”
One thing he’s always emphasized to his Mount teams is that every stroke counts, and this year the Magic needed every stroke to slide into the runner-up spot ahead of Peters Township.
“It wasn’t close for first, and that wasn’t such a bad thing,” Brown said. “In 2014 when we lost by four strokes, everybody beat themselves up over one missed stroke here or there. On the other hand, getting into second place by one stroke this year was a nice finish for our girls.”
The Mount St. Joe skipper calculated that this year’s senior class built up an overall record of 58-3 in head-to-head regular-season matches.
They continued the Magic’s dominance in their league, won three District 1 crowns and a state championship, and were state runner-up twice.
Citing increasing business commitments, Brown said that he’ll be leaving along with the Class of 2016. Despite the loss of five seniors (Laura Park was the other 12th-grader), there’s a good foundation for the future. Mahon was one of the top players this year, and her freshman sister, Brianna, shows a lot of promise. Mercader seems to be on the rise and sophomore Maya Trujillo is a two-year varsity veteran.
Judging from a recent open house at the Mount where Brown manned the golf team table, there may be some incoming freshmen who have an immediate impact next fall. He said he spoke to 14 prospects who have already been playing the sport for some time.
“This has been a tremendously positive experience for me,” he said. “The girls all got along, they all worked hard, and they all got better. I think they learned lessons that go beyond golf, and they’ve also come to appreciate golf as something as something they can enjoy the rest of their lives. In that way, I hope I’ve given back to the game that’s given so much to me.”