Last season, the Penn State Altoona golf program fought through inconsistency during the course of the season to ultimately place third in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference Championships. This fall, head coach Tom Koehle hopes that his young roster will settle into a groove and play up to its potential.
The Lions feature five returners, all sophomores: Clayton Hagenbuch (Latrobe, PA/Greater Latrobe), Matt Krupa (Huntingdon, PA/Huntingdon), Chris Michelone (Altoona, PA/Bishop Guilfoyle), Mateo Scott (Lima, Peru/Highlands International School), and Pongthong "Pete" Thongyai (Patum Thani, Thailand/New Mexico Military Institute). Thongyai is the team's top returner after competing in 10 rounds for Penn State Altoona last season and recording an average score of 81.7.
"Pete is expected to be a leader on the team from a scoring standpoint. He should be a strong contender for AMCC Player of the Year, as he has all the tools to play quality rounds of golf every time out. He is as long as any player in the AMCC, and when he is focused, can putt lights out," explained Koehle, who is in his 12th season leading the Penn State Altoona golf program. "Chris is a grinder who works harder than anyone on the team. If he can relax and find a groove, he can be counted on to be a consistent contributor. Clayton, Mateo, and Matt are all solid players with different strengths that keep them competitive, but they must shore up some weaknesses to play to the levels that they're capable."
After the returners from last year, the men's golf roster welcomes seven freshmen to its ranks: Hunter Duriez (Northern Cambria, PA/Northern Cambria), Carter Fischer (Bellefonte, PA/Philipsburg-Osceola), Jimmy Gillespie (Glen Mills, PA/Garnet Valley), Payton Guelich (Sandy Ridge, PA/Philipsburg-Osceola), Luke Hoffnagle (Spring Grove, PA/Spring Grove), Jacob Mrvos (North Huntingdon, PA/Norwin), and Ely Roselius (Moon Township, PA/Moon).
"I have seven recruits that have all proven, through junior golf and high school golf, to be very competitive in their first year. If they buy in to a 'team first' concept, they will push each other to be better students, better people, and thus better golfers, providing the team an opportunity to contend for an AMCC title," said Koehle. "All seven of our freshmen will be in the running for a starting spot at some point. The goal is to identify who is playing best in mid-October, when we try to lay claim to an AMCC championship."
While the 2016 version of the Lions golf team produced plenty of excellent performances on the course, the squad was unable to sustain those kinds of showings as a whole on a regular basis. Koehle hopes that his returners, now with one year of college golf under their belts, can help set the tone this year by playing within themselves and keeping their focus.
"After the first week of practice, I saw Pete settling in very well. He has avoided big mistakes on the course through early qualifying, and he seems very focused on playing good golf," Koehle said. "The other second-year players need to learn a little bit of relaxation and not to push so hard when things aren't going so well. They get too down when they aren't playing well and get too high when they are. If they can ease their minds and focus on positives, I'm sure the second-year guys will be at the forefront of our lineup."
Ultimately, Koehle knows that his team is talented enough to compete with any other squad in the AMCC. But he realizes that the physical talent will be wasted if the players' mental game is not at its sharpest during each event.
"Although I am optimistic that we can once again contend for an AMCC championship trophy, we are unproven with such a young team," said Koehle. "We are full of talent, but it needs to show when we compete. If we play our best and smartest golf, I am optimistic that we can be right at the top with the perennial contenders."
Penn State Altoona men's golf opens its 2017 schedule on Saturday, September 2 in the Pitt-Bradford Invitational at Pine Acres Country Club. The Lions' annual home invitational is set to occur on Saturday, September 16 at Sinking Valley Country Club. Later in the schedule, the Lions wrap up their season in the two-day AMCC Championships, set to happen on Sunday, October 8 and Monday, October 9 at Avalon Lakes Golf Club.
Sophomore Claudia Ochoa (Fairfax, VA/Robinson Secondary) returns to the Penn State Altoona golf program this fall looking to build on her accomplishments from last season.
In 2016, Ochoa became the first female varsity golfer at Penn State Altoona in eight years. She competed in six rounds of golf and recorded an average score of 96.4, and her top finish came on October 3 when she placed first individually in the women's golf portion of the Penn State Behrend Invitational.
This fall, head coach Tom Koehle expects her to improve in her second season of college golf.
"Claudia is coming along very well. She is a bit inconsistent with her tee ball, and it's something we are working on day-to-day," said Koehle, who is in his 12th season overall as the head coach of the Penn State Altoona golf program. "When she gets her tee ball in play, she usually posts great scores. Her iron game and wedge game are fantastic, which helps her scoring."
With some adjustments to her game and having the experience of playing one season at the collegiate level, Koehle believes that Ochoa can improve upon her performances from last season.
"I really expect Claudia to be near the top of the leaderboard at all of her events," he stated. "She has a year under her belt and knows what to expect on the course. Once she is committed to a positive mindset with the driver, the sky is the limit."
Ochoa is expected to compete at several events this season for Penn State Altoona, including the Lions' home invitational (Saturday, September 16), the Mount Aloysius College Invitational (Sunday, September 17), and the Penn State Behrend Invitational (Monday, October 2).