by Tom Utescher
On Mount Rose Avenue in York, Pennsylvania, everything was coming up roses for the Mount St. Joseph golf team last Wednesday when the Magic won the 2019 PIAA Triple-A state team championship.
The Mount rose from a third-place finish in 2018 to champion this year by putting up a three-player score of 241 strokes, while second place was shared by Hershey High School and Upper St. Clair High School, each with a score of 247.
MSJ senior Olivia Wirsching led the effort with a five-over-par score of 77. This tied her for second-best score overall with a player from McDowell High School, the District 10 champion from Erie, while another athlete from McDowell, sophomore Zoey McClain, scored a 75.
Each team enters five golfers and its top three scores are counted toward the team tally. A pair of Norwood-Fontbonne Academy graduates were the other two scorers for the Magic – junior Clare Gimpel (80) and sophomore Caroline Gola (84).
Gimpel’s older sister, Emily, played on the Mount’s first two state championship teams as a freshman in 2006 and a sophomore the following year. The Magic captured the title again in 2013, and last week’s win allowed the Mount to join Pittsburgh’s Shady Side Academy as the only four-time winners of the PIAA championship.
The other participants for the team at last week’s tourney were also both Norwood graduates – junior Sofia Gambone (94) and sophomore Nora Blatney (105).
Fourth-year Mount head coach John Mischler remarked, “Our anchors were Olivia and Clare, given not only their talent level but also their dedication to practicing. They kept their game at a high level all four years. Caroline came in and complemented them, giving us solid scores in that critical third spot, which is where many schools struggle.”
When one of last year’s seniors was unable to play at the PIAA District 1 tournament, Gola stepped in and helped the Magic win the championship by a single stroke over Downingtown East High School. Downingtown also made the trip to the state tournament and edged out the Mount for second place. North Allegheny High School from suburban Pittsburgh won the state championship for the third time in four seasons.
This year, the Magic won the District 1 tourney for the seventh year in a row, with Unionville High School replacing Downingtown East as the runner-up. North Allegheny, which had graduated an outstanding player who was the team’s mainstay for four seasons, was not represented at the state tournament this year.
Meanwhile, the Mount endures. The program’s historical familiarity with the playoff structure is a factor, and the individual players on the current team have gotten to know a bit about the difficult course at Heritage Hills.
“A number of the girls played here in the past, and they came out here last Saturday and played,” Mischler said. “Our strength today was course management. We didn’t shoot high numbers on holes and we made putts. The girls played smart golf.”
The Mount and Hershey High were among the leading teams from the start, and Unionville stayed right with them for a time. Hershey gained a little separation for awhile, leading by as many as six strokes on the digital leaderboard that was kept active on dozens of smartphones.
Upper St. Clair moved into the top group as Unionville faded (they would finish fifth), and the Magic began to track down Hershey. They were two strokes behind the Chocolate Town team for awhile, then pulled even as the first players began to finish their rounds.
As a crowd assembled in the tournament headquarters pavilion, the outlook began to look better and better for the Mounties as the numbers refreshed on large and small screens. The results finally locked in, and the Mounties were hoisting the newly-introduced PIAA state championship trophy, which golfers were the first to receive out of all the sponsored sports.
Although Wirsching will be graduating, Mischler said, “We had some good freshmen who came out this year, and we also have other players who are working to be ready to step in. The team also owes a lot to our other coach, Jules [Quinones], who is as passionate about this game as anyone I know.”
Like Mischler himself, Quinones is the father of a former Mount St. Joe golfer.
Throughout championship day in York last week, there had been many more girls in purple Mount attire in the gallery than on the course.
“The entire team came out here today to watch, and they walked the whole course,” Mischler related. “I told them a while back that the thing that will determine how far we go this year is how we stand together.”