By Dan Walk
The Meadville Tribune
October 24, 2012 7:00 a.m. MEADVILLE —
High school golf has never been known to attract a huge group of followers. It’s not the kind of sport you can just sit in the stands and watch, let alone paint up your face and lead a rowdy home crowd through some boisterous cheers.
Yet, the Meadville community can’t help but take notice of the success of the varsity boys golf team, which will tee off in the PIAA Class AAA Team Golf Championship today at Heritage Hills Golf Course in York.
“No one follows high school golf,” said Bulldogs head coach Fred Garvey Jr. “But I can’t tell you how many people have told me congratulations, or to pass along to the team how great they’ve been doing.
“It’s kind of neat that the community is following a sport that’s not really in the limelight. It’s not basketball or football or boys volleyball. We don’t have fans that can go watch. So, it’s neat that they’re buying into it and they’re excited for the kids to be a part of it.”
This will be the golf team’s first time at states. And the Bulldogs’ qualifying score ranks them last out of the six teams in the Class AAA tournament. Yet, the District 10 and PIAA sub-regional champions have surprised the competition before. They’re perfectly capable of doing it again.
“I’m just hoping we go out with a win,” said Bulldogs senior Mike Bogardus. “With the way Zack (Ford) and Charlie (Holt) have been playing; me, Will (Malady) and Dalton (Zelasco) have to step it up a little bit and we’ll have a good chance I believe.”
Meadville advanced to the state tournament in exciting fashion. Playing in a PIAA sub-regional tournament against district champions from districts 5, 6, 8 and 9; Meadville carded a 324 to tie State College for first place. The sophomore Holt and the freshman Ford both shot 75s to lead the Bulldogs.
The senior Malady disappointedly turned in score of 90, and felt that hehadn’t helped out his team.
But then he became the hero of the tiebreaker against State College, sinking a four-foot putt for par on the first playoff hole to earn the Bulldogs the victory.
“What a way to go out,” said Garvey. “It’s been a great group. I don’t know if the seniors get as much recognition for what they’ve done, with Charlie and Zack playing so well. But (the seniors) have worked hard.
“At the banquet I always tell story of how Will didn’t even make a team as freshman. ... But he worked his tail off and lettered every year after that. And the kids voted him captain this year. And he just had a solid year.”
The Bulldogs will be facing some pretty stiff competition in today’s tournament.
The favorite is reigning state champion Manheim Township, which qualified with a 294 team score in its sub-regional. The ’Dogs will also have to compete against teams from Council Rock North (300 qualifying score), St. Joseph’s Prep (301), Scranton Prep (304) and Central Catholic (306).
Malady said that out of all the schools, Manheim may have the most pressure since it is trying to defend a state title. He’s more motivated than worried about playing against such elite golfers.
“All these teams are just as good or equal to us,” Malady said. “It’s just a great feeling to compete against that competition. We’re hoping to come out on top.”
The event begins with a shotgun start. Holt will commence on the first tee, followed by Ford on the second tee, Zelasco and Malady on the third and Bogardus on the fifth. Zelasco, a junior, and Malady aren’t paired together — Zelasco is in the Hole 3A group and Malady is 3B.
Heritage Hills is a 6,700-yard par 71 course. The only Meadville golfer with any experience on that track is Ford. In fact, Ford has competed all over the country, even though he is the youngest player on the team.
And that experience has been vital to the Bulldogs this season, who lost Chris Allegretti, the 2011 Region 3 player of the year and The Meadville Tribune’s 2011 golfer of the year, to graduation.
“Zack has played in tournaments all over,” Bogardus said. “He kind of gave us the positive reinforcement. I love how we had a senior who was shooting mid-70s and then a freshman comes in and does just as well.”
Yet while Ford, and his sophomore counterpart Holt, have definitely stuck out this season, Meadville didn’t get to this level by playing as a bunch of individuals. The Bulldogs are in the team championship after all.
“They’re pretty pumped, they’re excited.” Garvey said. “But they’re pretty serious about it. ... I have some great individual golfers. Ford and Holt are fabulous. But the team has always been first ahead of individual accolades.”