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Penn State Altoona Golf 2016 Season Preview

Penn State Altoona Golf 2016 Season Preview

Men’s Golf

The Penn State Altoona men’s golf program has been on the upswing the past two years, finishing as the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference’s runners-up in 2014 and 2015 after going through several transitional seasons. This fall, head coach Tom Koehle believes that his squad is perfectly positioned to make a run at its sixth AMCC title and the automatic qualification to the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament that would ensue.

"We have one goal this year, and that is to return Penn State Altoona to the NCAA Championships next spring," said Koehle, who is embarking on his 11th season as the Lions golf program’s head coach. "We have had a six-year drought, and this is the team that can return us there."

Koehle’s optimism is founded in an accomplished foundation of returning golfers, as well an impressive group of newcomers who have the talent to contribute right away.

Back from last year’s team are seniors Matt Dillon (Roaring Spring, PA/Central) and Jared Wood (Hollidaysburg, PA/Hollidaysburg) and sophomores Adam Osborne (Tipton, PA/Bellwood-Antis) and Carl Gelardi (Middletown, NY/Minisink Valley).

Dillon is the most tenured player on the team, entering his fourth season with the Penn State Altoona men’s golf program. Last fall, he earned first team All-AMCC honors and averaged 81.6 per round. Wood, a transfer who spent his first season with the Lions last year, was also a first team All-Conference pick in 2015 after finishing the schedule with an average score of 78.1.

"Matt is a four-year senior who brings leadership and experience to a young but talented team. He has drastically improved since his freshman year and is the hardest-working player to ever wear the blue and white for us. His consistent play will show his trademark leadership, and his team-first attitude will help us bring along a talented freshman class," Koehle explained. "Jared is our returning scoring average leader. He can go low on any golf course, and his ‘bad’ rounds are still competitive in the AMCC. Jared can hang with anyone in the conference and in the region, and when his driver is on, he is tough to beat."

Rounding out the returning golfers are Osborne, a second team All-AMCC selection last year who averaged an 82.8 per round, and Gelardi, who played in five matches for the Lions and shot an 87.6 per round.

"Adam brings a steadiness and consistency that is much-needed in the middle of the lineup. He is dependable to have a score that the team will count almost every match," said Koehle. "Carl is the consummate teammate. He is a competitor who encourages everyone to work hard at practice. Carl hits the ball real solid, and I look for him to compete for a spot in the lineup. His best golf is still in front of him."

Koehle is just as excited about his group of incoming golfers, and he strongly feels that the newcomers will couple with the returners to put his team over the top in the AMCC this fall.

"This is the most talented class of freshmen to ever join the golf team at Penn State Altoona," he stated. "I seem to say that every year, but recruiting has been strong locally, and we have started to attract some very talented international players."

Among the first-year golfers who come from regional high schools are Matt Krupa (Huntingdon, PA/Huntindon), Chris Michelone (Altoona, PA/Bishop Guilfoyle), and Clayton Hagenbuch (Latrobe, PA/Greater Latrobe). Koehle is impressed with each player’s combination of poise and skill, and he sees them fitting comfortably into the lineup this year.

"Matt is our prize local recruit, coming in as the Mountain League MVP. He plays a really consistent game, limits his mistakes on the course, and is a great young man," said Koehle. "Chris is a local player who sat out a year after transferring, and he is one of the best up-and-coming amateurs locally. Clayton’s experience playing for one of the state’s best programs at Latrobe will be an asset, and he has already pushed for playing time on our team."

Koehle also points to recruits Pongthong Thongyai (Patum Thani, Thailand/New Mexico Military Institute) and Mateo Scott (Los Angeles, CA/Highlands International School) as being potential difference-makers for the Lions this fall.

"Pete has been strong in early practice and qualifying. He is as long of a hitter as anyone in the AMCC, has a great putting stroke, and comes from a strong high school team in New Mexico," he said. "Mateo has been a welcome surprise and has shot some great scores in practice. He is very competitive and can only get better as the season progresses."

From top to bottom, Koehle believes that his 2016 roster has the potential to achieve great things. His team possesses the coveted mix of depth, experience, and talent, and he feels confident that any of his players can step on to the course and produce strong results. Koehle also knows that the competitive spirit of his players will push each individual to become a better golfer, ultimately helping the team as a whole.

"With an entire roster of players capable of shooting in the 70s in any given round, practices and qualifying will be competitive, and that will only make the team better over the next seven weeks," Koehle said. "We need to continue pushing each other to be better on the course, on the practice grounds, and in the classroom. I am excited to see how this all unfolds."

Penn State Altoona’s 2016 schedule features eight events. The Lions tee off their season on Saturday, September 3 in the Pitt-Bradford Invitational at Pine Acres Country Club, and then they continue play in the Guy W. Kuhn Memorial Invitational hosted by Allegheny College on Monday, September 11 and Tuesday, September 12 at Meadville Country Club.

The Lions host their lone home event of the season on Saturday, September 17 with the Penn State Altoona Invitational at Sinking Valley Country Club, then they will travel to nearby Summit Country Club for the Mount Aloysius College Invitational on Sunday, September 18. Penn State Altoona journeys to Wildwood Golf Club on Tuesday, September 20 for the La Roche College Fall Invitational before heading to Hanover Country Club on Saturday, September 24 for the Gettysburg College Invitational.

On Monday, October 3, the Lions wrap up their regular season at Lawrence Park Golf Club for the Penn State Behrend Invitational before competing in the AMCC Championships at Avalon Lakes Golf Club on Sunday, October 9 and Monday, October 10.

"Our schedule includes out-of-conference dates at Allegheny and Gettysburg. Both of these events are played on great golf courses with strong regional fields," Koehle said. "It will be great to see how we stack up with the best in the region, as well as the AMCC. I feel certain those events will have us well-prepared for Avalon Lakes and the AMCC Championships."

Koehle expects big things from the 2016 edition of his squad, and he hopes to see his golfers capture the program’s first AMCC title since 2010.

"I think there is a chance for this team, with a great mix of experience and youth, to be a very special team. When our players grasp the idea that our ticket to an AMCC championship and NCAA bid is a team goal, and not an individual goal, the sky is the limit," he said. "We have to be sharp and prepared every match so that our confidence is high and that we are peaking at the AMCC Championships. Our incoming players have length and accuracy to compete on any course, and our returners have the experience of coming up short the last two years. I hope that makes them hungry for winning."

Women’s Golf

While women’s golf is not yet sponsored within the AMCC as a team sport, varsity female golfers from various AMCC schools compete against each other at invitationals throughout the season. This culminates in an annual individual championship for AMCC women’s golfers, which occurs during the AMCC Championships on Sunday, October 9 and Monday, October 10 at Avalon Lakes Golf Club.

The successful tradition of varsity golf at Penn State Altoona includes winning four AMCC women’s individual titles: Leslie Pavetto (2005), Jenna Rothermel (2006), and Ashley Piper (2007 and 2008). This fall, for the first time since the 2008 season, Penn State Altoona will sponsor a varsity women’s golfer, freshman Claudia Ochoa (Fairfax, VA/Robinson Secondary).

Koehle is eager for Penn State Altoona to again be represented in AMCC women’s golf, and he strongly believes that Ochoa can bring home a fifth AMCC women’s championship.

"Claudia comes into the program with much optimism and a true love of the game. She hits the ball very solid and has very few weaknesses," he explained. "She plays to her strengths, and that is very mature for a player in college."

Koehle expects Ochoa to make a smooth transition to the college golf game, and he hopes that her success will attract future women’s golf recruits to Penn State Altoona’s program.

"We have high expectations for Claudia to contend for an AMCC women’s championship and to contend at the events she participates in," stated Koehle. "It’s great to have such a competitive and well-rounded player representing Penn State Altoona in the women’s ranks. We hope her success encourages more women to show an interest in playing golf at Penn State Altoona."

Photo: Seniors Matt Dillon (left) and Jared Wood (right) are expected to anchor the Lions golf team this fall.

TAGS: men's golf women's golf