Deeper lineup helps Valley boys golfers reach WPIAL playoffs

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Monday, October 11, 2021 | 10:17 AM


The Valley boys golf team successfully checked off a couple of goal-oriented boxes this season.

The Vikings were hoping to improve on last year’s .500 record. Check. Through 11 matches, Valley was 8-3.

The Vikings also were hoping to advance to the WPIAL team championship. Check again.

Valley tied for second with Riverview in Section 1-AA with a 7-3 record. Burrell captured first place.

“Finishing with a better record than last year was our goal,” said Pat Petit, Valley’s third-year coach. “Making the playoffs was icing on the cake. The school not being able to field a boys soccer team helped the golf team gain three golfers.

“I was hoping to improve, and we accomplished that. These boys all are friends, and they played over the summer. My assistant coach, ‘Mailman,’ took them golfing (regularly), and it showed. I want to make sure Rob Abt doesn’t go unnoticed because he has been an assistant golf coach for 16 years. He is a real asset, and I couldn’t have done it without him.”

The WPIAL team playoffs get underway Tuesday with 19 boys squads in Class AA playing to advance out of semifinal tournaments at Indian Run in Avella and Meadowink in Murrysville.

Nine teams will compete at each site, with the top three from each advancing to the WPIAL finals Thursday at Cedarbrook.

Valley will play at Meadowink along with Bishop Canevin, Burrell, Derry, Elizabeth Forward, Greensburg Central Catholic, Keystone Oaks, North Catholic, Riverview and Sewickley Academy.

“My expectations are to try to advance to the next round,” Petit said, “but that will be a tough task because we are in the bracket with several private schools. But most importantly is the experience that it brings for the kids.”

The Vikings, whose home course is at Buffalo, have been led this fall by seniors Ben Aftanas, Isaac Kelley and Dario Wolfe, who’s also a football player.

Aftanas and Kelley serve as captain and co-captain, respectively.

“Ben and Isaac bring leadership qualities and lead by example,” Petit said. “Ben is consistent in both aspects, making sure he doesn’t miss practice or matches, along with working his hardest to get better. Isaac pretty much serves the same purpose, but he’s always wanting to listen and work hard. I must say he does have a funny side to him, so he brings a lot of laughs.”

“They both keep trying to recruit players. We really don’t have a golf course nearby and it makes it a little hard to get golfers in our district. I also don’t want to forget Dario. Football is his first sport and he only made it to one match, but he was there if we needed him.”

Aftanas is a four-year varsity starter for the Vikings. He also competes in basketball and baseball.

“I knew we were going to have an inexperienced team, but I saw guys that wanted to compete and get better,” Aftanas said. “I can’t begin to explain how proud I am of our team. We had a lot of first-year players, and they stepped up in a big way.

“I know one thing is guaranteed, we’re going to compete. That’s what we’ve done all year. Even during our bad rounds, we never gave up. We went through the ups and downs of an inexperienced team, but we continued to battle.”

Aftanas, who is treasurer of both the senior class and prom committee, plans to continue his baseball career in college.

“We had four guys step up in a big way this year, Dan Petrick, Ethan Harclerode, Landon Harclerode and Maddox DeAntonio,” Aftanas said. “Without these guys, we wouldn’t have had a team. With the help of Isaac, we asked these guys to come out for the team and see if they liked it.

“These guys, along with Isaac and Nick Swierczewski, have made my senior season very enjoyable. Isaac has really progressed. I’ve been really impressed with him, especially over our last few matches.”

Kelley has golfed for the Vikings for three years. He also plays on the baseball team, and competes for an independent club in the fall, which won its first 10 games.

The junior linkster did not have lofty expectations for his team prior to the start of the golf season.

“We had three guys from last year,” Kelley said, “with four new guys coming to the team that I’d never seen golf. But they are doing really well. Without them, we wouldn’t be in this position.

“For the WPIAL tournament, I would love for us to finish in the top three. I’m glad we’ve made it this far as a team, and I think everyone else is, too.”

Along with Aftanas and Kelley, there are several other integral competitors on the boys team.

“All the players are just as important as the next, but Ben and Isaac have been with me since I was hired,” Petit said. “Junior Nicholas Swierczewski has also been with us the same amount of time.

“Then, we picked up a gem in junior Daniel Petrick. He has added a lot to the team. I just wish he would’ve started when he was a freshman.”

Rounding out the squad are brothers, junior Ethan Harlcerode and freshman Landon Harlcerode, and another freshman prospect, Maddox DeAntonio. All three are former soccer players at Valley.

“Maddox gave us more youth and playing experience,” Petit said. “He plays a lot of golf with his grandfather.”

The Vikings’ regular-season lineup consisted of Aftanas, Petrick, Landon Harclerode, Swierczewski, Kelley, Ethan Harclerode, DeAntonio and Wolfe.

“I really don’t use a one-man, two-man, etc., lineup,” Petit said. “I have seven golfers and one fill-in, and for the most part, I consider them all equal. I put out six golfers to compete, then I take the top five scores.”

Petit started coaching the boys golf team in 2019. Valley did not win a match that season but improved to a .500 record in 2020, followed by this year’s success story.

“I just can’t say enough about this group,” Petit said. “They are like my own kids. They never complain, and they want to play golf and get better.

“I am looking forward to the future of Valley golf. It looks very bright. I will have five returning players, and I can only hope to pick up a couple more during the offseason.”

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