Clare Gimpel, a Mount freshman, follows the flight of her ball toward the green. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

At the PIAA team golf championships held in York, Pa. last Wednesday, District 1 champion Mount St. Joseph Academy improved its state standing from last year, rising from third place in 2016 to become runner-up this time around.

The Magic needed every stroke to do it. While District 7 champ North Allegheny High School finished far ahead of the other five teams in the Class AAA (large schools) division with a total score of 240, Mount St. Joe pulled out second place by a single stroke – 258 to 259 – over Erie’s Villa Maria Academy, the District 10 champ.

Sophomore Olivia Wirsching led the way for Mount St. Joe, ending up with a round of 84 that tied her for fourth place individually. Not far behind was freshman Clare Gimpel, with an 86 that put her in a three-way tie for sixth place along with two Villa Maria golfers. MSJ junior Brianna Mahon rounded out the top 10 with her round of 88, completing the Magic’s total of 258.

If the team scores seem remarkably low to anyone who’s followed this tournament in the past, it’s because the PIAA went from the play-five, count-four format it’s followed for years to counting just the top three rounds for each team to arrive at an official tally. This change for the girls (but not the boys), it was said, was made in the interest of promoting girls’ golf in Pennsylvania.

However, the new format fails to reward schools that have worked to develop a strong golf program overall, with depth of talent extending beyond just a few standout players. While North Allegheny was both an impressively strong and deep team, the new scoring actually had an immediate impact for two other Pittsburgh-area schools in District 7. In the Class AA (small schools) grouping, the team from Greensburg Central Catholic would’ve won with the old score-four format, but instead GCC finished second to Sewickley Academy this year, 244-252.

Sewickley’s number one player turned in the best round of any girl in either division last Wednesday at par-72 Heritage Hills Golf Resort, coming in with a five-under 67 that put her 10 strokes ahead of the second-place player in Class AA.

In the Mount’s Class AAA, North Allegheny junior Caroline Wrigley was no slouch, scoring a three-under 69 to lead her team to its second title in three years. In 2016, the Tigers placed second, one spot ahead of the Mount.

Mount junior Brianna Mahon lays into the ball at the state championships in York, Pa. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Having repeated as both the Catholic Academies and District 1 champs earlier in the season, Mount St. Joe performed well overall at States. Along with the three scorers, the other two Mounties who participated easily made it into the top 20. Senior Maya Trujillo was alone in 15th with a 92, and junior Lia Priolo tied for 16th with a 94.

With Trujillo’s round added to the scores turned in by Wirsching, Gimpel and Mahon, the Magic’s four-player total of 350 was a significant improvement over the team’s 2016 official score of 370.

North Allegheny’s Wrigley had placed third in the PIAA individual championships, held on the same course on Monday and Tuesday of last week. On the leaderboard for much of Wednesday’s team tourney, she occupied the top spot and her teammate and fellow junior Christina Lewis sat third.

Second place would go to another District 7 player, senior Hannah Conroy of Fox Chapel (four-over, 76). With a score of 262, Conroy’s squad finished fourth in the team rankings, ahead of District 3 champion Central Dauphin (288) and District 2 winner North Pocono (302).

In the final team scoring for the winners, there was an irregularity. Wrigley’s 69 and the 81 produced by Lewis added up to 150, and a third player came in with a score of 84. This would have given the team a total of 234, not the final official figure of 240. A total of 240 could be arrived at only by adding the scores of the top two golfers with the round of 90 turned in by the number four player on the squad.

Since the listing of final results by team included each school’s players in order but not their actual scores on the same screen, this was not noticed by many people in the immediate aftermath of the tournament.

For all participants, the weather was unusually pleasant. Heritage Hills, the site of the team tournament since its inception, has tended to offer either chilly, rainy, or windy conditions, or some combination of the three. Last Wednesday, though, it was mostly sunny with temperatures in the 60’s and little wind.

Mount St. Joe sophomore Olivia Wirsching is driving off of the first tee at the PIAA state team tournament. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

The course itself proved to be a tricky one for young players. Mount coach John Mischler noted that there were hardly any flat spots on any of the greens, and pin placement, as usual, was quite challenging.

Among the Mount supporters observing the action in York was Clare Gimpel’s older sister Emily. She was a member of the Magic’s state champion teams in 2006 and 2007, and is now a professional golfer playing on the Symetra Tour (formerly the LPGA Futures). Emily came to the Mount from the old Springside School, while Clare is a Norwood Fontbonne Academy graduate.

The golf team from La Salle High School also made the trip to York, having won the District 12 championship. The Explorers would finish fifth in Class AAA with a team score of 310 in the boys’ competition, in which the course was rated at par-71.

Sophomore Steve Lorenzo led La Salle with a five-over 76 that got him into a five-way tie for 11th place, while senior Buddy Hansen and juniors Frank Gregor and Matt Law wound up in a three-way tie for 17th with 78’s. The other member of the Explorers’ party was senior Tim Lorenzo, who shot an 83.

Another Southeastern Pennsylvania team won the championship; District 1 titlist Unionville High School put up a score of 292.