The future is bright for the Penn State Altoona men's golf program, and the good news for the Lions is that the future is now.
Last season, Penn State Altoona boasted a lineup that regularly included several talented first-year golfers. With strong contributions all season long from many of those freshmen, the Lions placed third in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference Championships. Now, several of those young returners from last year's squad will comprise the core of the Lions' lineup.
Sophomores Luke Hoffnagle (Spring Grove, PA/Spring Grove), Jimmy Gillespie (Glen Mills, PA/Garnet Valley), and Payton Guelich (Philipsburg, PA/Philipsburg-Osceola) project to lead the way for Penn State Altoona in 2018. Hoffnagle was a first team All-AMCC selection last season, golfing in all 13 rounds for the Lions and compiling a team-best 78.31 average. Gillespie had the third-lowest average on the team last year, shooting 80.5 per round in 12 rounds, and Guelich posted the fourth-lowest average on last season's squad, averaging 80.6 per round in 10 rounds.
Head coach Tom Koehle, who is in his 13th year, expects that these three returning sophomores will only improve with one season of collegiate golf under their belts.
"No doubt that those three sophomores will be looked at to not only lead the team, but improve upon their accomplishments of last year," he said. "They know what to expect and how to compete within the conference. They need to lead by example and show the hunger to accomplish our team goals throughout the season, culminating in contending for an AMCC championship and getting our program back to the NCAA championship."
The Lions also welcome back three other sophomores from last season's squad: Carter Fischer (Bellefonte, PA/Philipsburg-Osceola), Jacob Mrvos (Pittsburgh, PA/Norwin), and Ely Roselius (Pittsburgh, PA/Moon).
"Carter, Jake, and Ely are very capable of being key contributors," said Koehle. "All three have shown flashes of brilliance in qualifying and during competition last year. The ability to keep focused for 18 holes, day in and day out, is necessary for success at this level. All three have the ability, but they have to break through and be more consistent."
The Lions' 2018 roster also includes four freshmen: Ethan Yohe (Murrysville, PA/Franklin Regional), Cole Mori (Annapolis, MD/Annapolis Area Christian School), Grant Molloy (Ambler, PA/Upper Dublin), and Frankie Guinan (Pottstown, PA/Owen J. Roberts). Koehle sees good potential in each player.
"We have a mature group of freshman newcomers, and all four have varying strengths to their game. Learning how to practice, focus on academics, and be up for competition both within the team and when playing tournaments is the biggest challenge for freshmen. Our group of sophomores will be fantastic examples for the freshmen to follow," Koehle stated. "Ethan cracked the top five heading into our first match at Pitt-Bradford. He has a great depth of tournament experience, and he hits the ball further than anyone I have ever coached. We need to translate that length into scoring opportunities as the season wears on. He is a definite early-season candidate for Newcomer of the Year."
"Once Cole, Grant, and Frankie get used to college lifestyle and how golf can play a positive role in that, I see nothing but success for them," Koehle continued. "They have great attitudes, a lot of potential, and have shown great work ethic and a desire to improve."
After the season-opening Pitt-Bradford Invitational on Saturday, September 1, the Lions continue their season with seven more regular season events: the Allegheny College Invitational (Sunday, September 9 and Monday, September 10), Penn State Altoona Invitational (Saturday, September 15), Mount Aloysius College Invitational (Sunday, September 16), La Roche College Fall Invitational (Tuesday, September 18), Lycoming College Invitational (Monday, September 24), Penn State Behrend Invitational (Monday, October 1), and Gettysburg College Invitational (Wednesday, October 3).
After the conclusion of the team's regular season events, the Lions will look to win their sixth AMCC title at the conference championships, which are Sunday, October 7 and Monday, October 8 at Avalon Lakes Golf and Country Club in Warren, Ohio. Koehle knows that, to win the AMCC championship, his team will need to be clicking on all cylinders for both days of the tournament while going up against some stiff competition.
"The AMCC champion is going to have to work hard and earn it this year. Despite graduating multiple seniors, both Penn State Behrend and La Roche will still field strong teams capable of winning every time out. Pitt-Bradford has improved, as well, with three returning starters and an influx of new players," Koehle explained. "I have a special feeling about our team, though. If they choose to put the work in over the next six weeks, they can punch their ticket anywhere they want to go. This is a team with depth, experience despite not having a junior or senior, and limitless potential to win the AMCC crown. We didn't win a tournament last year, but we did shoot some program-low scores on some of the courses we played. We need to get a 'W' under our belt leading into the conference championship. We can beat anyone on our schedule – we just have to take a team-first approach and play good, solid golf."