After sitting on the brink of claiming its sixth Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference golf championship last fall, the Penn State Altoona golf program will look for redemption after a disappointing finish.
Leading at the conclusion of the first round of the AMCC Championships, the Lions ultimately dropped to fourth place, failing to back up a gutsy opening round effort. It's that disappointment that head coach Tom Koehle hopes will motivate his 2019-20 team.
"The returning players want to erase the disappointment from last year. With three starters returning and an experienced group vying to fill out the top five, it's our goal to regain the AMCC Championship after a nine-year drought," said Koehle. "Pitt-Bradford is the clear favorite, returning their entire starting five from their championship last year, but I like our mix of strong upperclassman leaders and those hungry to prove themselves at the NCAA level."
The top of the Lion lineup should once again be strong, led by juniors Jimmy Gillespie (Glen Mills, PA/Garnet Valley) and Luke Hoffnagle (York, PA/Spring Grove) and sophomore Ethan Yohe (Murrysville, PA/Franklin Regional). Gillespie averaged a team-best 78.8 in the 2018 fall season, which included winning the Lycoming Invitational with a 75 and second place finishes at the Mount Aloysius and James Bowen-Penn State Behrend Invitationals, firing 74 at both. Yohe was runner-up at the Gettysburg and Lycoming Invitationals. At season's end, Gillespie and Yohe each took home second team All-AMCC honors. Hoffnagle started slowly in his sophomore campaign, following one of the most impressive freshman seasons in school history, but still had three top-seven finishes and led the team at the AMCC Championships.
"There is no doubt that Jimmy, Luke, and Ethan will be looked on as leaders of our team this fall. They had a lot of input as to how we work our schedule, practice, and ways we could improve as a program. We took inventory on ways we could all get better, and I am anxious to see these changes take hold. These three are our backbone," Koehle said.
Filling out the lineup will be as competitive as ever, as four additional returners and three freshmen will vie for playing time through qualifying and tournament play. Among those are junior Jacob Mrvos (North Huntingdon, PA/Norwin) and sophomore Cole Mori (Annapolis, MD/Annapolis Area Christian School).
"Jake and Cole gained the most experience last season," Koehle stated. "They found themselves in the lineup throughout the year, and with hard work in the offseason, they should find themselves with the opportunity to be consistent contributors."
Also looking to crack the lineup will be sophomores Grant Molloy (Ambler, PA/Upper Dublin) and Frankie Guinan (Pottstown, PA/Owen J. Roberts), along with freshman recruits Ryan Marshall (Pittsburgh, PA/Peters Township) and Brian Snyder (Sunbury, PA/Shikellamy). Fellow freshman Aaron Horvat (North Huntingdon, PA/Norwin) earned a spot on the team as a walk-on.
"Frankie and Grant are great members of the team and worked very hard this summer to improve. They both have the ability to break through this fall, and it's just a matter of time before they both realize their potential," Koehle added. "Ryan was one of the most consistent performers in the WPIAL last year and comes from a strong high school program. He was clutch through WPIAL qualifying in the ultra-competitive AAA bracket, and he is on the cusp of becoming an outstanding golfer. It would not surprise me to see him as a contender for AMCC Newcomer of the Year. Brian was one of the strongest golfers in District IV and had an outstanding opening week of practice and qualifying. Aaron broke through in walk-on tryouts, and with a little guidance, could find himself in the lineup."
Heading into his 14th season at the helm, Koehle has changed his approach as to how the team builds toward the AMCC Championships. The Lions will now play more multiple day events in preparation for the two-day AMCC Championships, which determine the conference's automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament in May.
The season will open with the two-day Allegheny College Guy and Jeanne Kuhn Memorial Invitational on Sunday, September 8 and Monday, September 9. Played at the Country Club of Meadville, the Kuhn Memorial draws a strong regional crowd. On Thursday, September 12, the Lions will travel to Grove City Country Club to compete in the Grove City College Fall Invitational. The field will test the Lions against several AMCC foes, along with some of the traditional Presidents' Athletic Conference powers. On Saturday, September 21 and Sunday, September 22, the Lions will host one half of the Fifth Annual Mountain Valley Collegiate Classic, along with Mount Aloysius College. Day one will be at the Lions' home course, Sinking Valley Country Club, with day two happening at Summit Country Club in nearby Cresson.
The Mason-Dixon Collegiate Classic will wrap up the month's schedule on Saturday, September 28 and Sunday, September 29. This is the team's first trip to this event at The Bridges Golf Club in Hanover, Pa., and it will pit the Lions against the best Division III programs in the Mid-Atlantic. On Monday, October 7, Penn State Behrend hosts the James M. Bowen Invitational at Lawrence Park Golf Club in Erie. That will set the stage as the Lions conclude the fall at the AMCC Championships on Sunday, October 13 and Monday, October 14 at Avalon Lakes Golf and Country Club in Warren, Ohio.
"Our season is all about building up to the AMCC Championships. We want to excel in the classroom, prepare at practice every day, and take our preparation and competitive rounds seriously," said Koehle. "This group has the right mix of talent, determination, and experience. I see no reason why we can't be right there on the final day of the fall season."