Ahead of the 2018 season, head coach Dave Kline was reserved about the Elizabethtown Area High School golf team’s potential. He had every right to be; the Bears had struggled in recent times, finishing near the bottom of the standings for Section Two of the Lancaster-Lebanon League for a number of years.
By the end of the year, the team was flying high, fighting its way to a 19-11 record and a second-place finish in the section, the best for the program since 2014.
That was enough to slightly change Kline’s tune coming into 2019.
“I’d use two words: cautiously optimistic.”
Both of those words are accurate descriptions for this season’s Elizabethtown team. With only a handful of losses, the Bears should, in theory, be in line to at least duplicate last year’s results, or ideally, surpass them. But that will require the roster to continue to improve, something that will take a lot of hard work.
“Well, it goes without saying the kids got to be dedicated,” Kline said. “They have to show up, try and do what they can. I’ve had kids who have come in and only played once or twice during the summer (before the season). By the same token, I got some kids here who have been to nearly every Monday workout, or they’ve texted me scores they had (elsewhere). Three-quarters of the team has part-time jobs too, which can be a drag on their system. It can be a trial to get them all together, but they’re committed.”
The top two players returning are junior Alex Williams and senior Eric Gilbert. Williams was the star for the Bears last season, leading the team with a regular-season average of 83, good for second in the section behind Warwick’s Brock Fassnacht, who graduated at the end of the year. Williams went to tie for 21st at the league championship, qualifying for districts in the process; he was the first Elizabethtown boy to do so since 2014. Meanwhile, Gilbert played in every regular-season match for the team, finishing third with an average of 94 (12th in Section Two).
“If I had a half dozen kids with Williams’ work ethic, we’d win everything,” Kline said. “He practices hard almost every day. And Gilbert hits the ball probably 15 or 20 yards further than what he did last year. He wouldn’t even be close to that two years ago. He’s in control, and he’s putting better.”
One thing in Elizabethtown’s favor is the fact that four other players with varsity experience will be back this season; the only other Section Two teams to have at least six returning golfers are Ephrata and Solanco. Senior Alex O’Shea (104.4 average in five matches) and junior Westin Kolaric (106.5 average in four matches) have the most match time. Senior Will Schaffer appeared in the final regular-season match, scoring a 112, while sophomore Jolene Markley (116 average), the team’s lone girl, played in three, including the league championship.
“That was part of the purpose for last year,” Kline said. “Obviously, I was watching how we were doing in the section, but you have to make an effort to get all the kids in competition. It’s one thing to come out here and play amongst themselves. They need to be able to go against other kids from different schools on different golf courses. I try to give them all a fair shot while maintaining the goal of competing in the section.”
There will be plenty of competition for playing time, however, especially given that the Bears lost two seniors to graduation who had extensive experience: Matt Pottgeiser (100.6 average in five matches) and Juniata College commit Connor Krisko (89.6 average in seven matches, including leagues). But the majority of the roster is made up of guys who are familiar to the team.
Senior Andrew Telenko, junior Ryan Risser and sophomore Billy O’Connell each played last season. Senior Nick Walton was absent in 2018 but played during his sophomore and freshman years. Even the two freshmen on this year’s roster, Ryan Findley and Dylan Parise, served as team managers last year. Junior Tyler Souders is the only new player in the program, and even he has acclimated to the group dynamic already.
“I don’t think there’s any real individualism,” Kline said. “They’re all supportive of each other. First day (of practice) out, and they’re all laughing and giggling. There’s already a camaraderie there. That’s what it’s all about, just having a good time and enjoying yourself.”
With an eclectic collection of talent to work with, Kline’s main area of focus this year will be to refine each player’s weak points. For some practices, he plans on just gathering everyone on one green to work chipping and putting. The hope will be to create more well-rounded games across the roster.
That may pay off for Elizabethtown in the end, especially in a section where the rest of the teams have taken heavier losses to graduation. Kline is still holding back on predicting a section title; there’s a long season ahead of he and the Bears. Considering that every player has some level of experience though, he does feel their chances to compete are higher than last year, which was already a success.
“That’s why I’m a little more at ease,” Kline said. “If I was a freshman coach, there’d be a lot of stuff I’d have to go over right away. These kids have been here before and know what it is. The seniors and juniors know what we can do and what the potential is. We’ll just see what happens.”