Derry junior hunting birdies, team success

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Monday, September 6, 2021 | 1:20 PM


Hunter Jurica stays true to his name all year.

In the winter, he likes to trek out into the freezing woods with a rifle and hunt deer.

When the ground thaws, he grabs his clubs, tries his best to stay out of the woods and hunts birdies.

Jurica is a standout junior golfer at Derry and one of the top youth players in Westmoreland County.

A year ago, he was part of a Derry team that won the Section 2-2A title, a first for the school since 1974. Jurica finished 31st at the WPIAL Class 2A individual final, shooting 93 at Allegheny Country Club. Looking back, it’s a score he isn’t thrilled about.

“Last year, I thought it was a good year, but I wasn’t happy with myself in terms of my game in general,” Jurica said. “I know I can play better than I did last year. This year, I’m really looking to lower my score and help out my team a lot.”

Said coach Tracey Smeltzer: “His expectations for last year were even higher than my expectations were. I saw him growing as a player. It’s a process. Sometimes they get so wrapped up in what their score is that their performance starts to drop off a little bit. I definitely see improvement in that area.”

Jurica’s expectations are even loftier this year. He never wants to see a score as high as he shot at Allegheny Country Club again and has shown the capabilities for that to be the case.

In the 2020 WPIAL team final, he shot an 81 at Cedarbrook Golf Course, the team’s top score. This summer, posted a 74 in a tournament in Youghiogheny Country Club, finishing second.

“That’s a pretty good round for me,” he said. “If I shoot in the 80s now, I’m definitely very frustrated with myself.”

Jurica got started in golf when he was 4 years old. His father would take him to Ligonier Country Club to work on chipping. He stopped playing during his adolescent years but picked it up again before entering high school.

His family has played a big role in enhancing his talent, including purchasing a golf simulator to allow him to play virtual rounds in the garage.

“I’m doing that most of the time,” he said. “I got it last Christmas. It’s definitely helped with my game, because now I’m down to a 112 handicap.”

Not only has his swing improved, but so has his attitude toward younger teammates.

“I’ve watched him grow as a player from freshman to junior year,” Smeltzer said. “One of the things that impressed me going into this year is how he assumed a leadership role. He wants it to be his team, even though he’s only a junior.”

That leadership really caught Smeltzer’s attention this summer when Jurica asked her if he could take the incoming freshmen golfers out to play a round.

“There aren’t a whole lot of kids who are willing to do that and put themselves in that position,” said Smeltzer, now in her ninth season. “But he said that he wanted them to feel like they were part of the team from Day One.”

Jurica has small goals for the 2021 season, such as improving his consistency off of the tee and sharpening his putting. He has some big ones, too, such as performing better at the individual and team finals and advancing to the PIAA tournament in both.

Smeltzer, who has three seniors and four other juniors joining Jurica, sees them as a driven squad that has meshed well.

“They want to win,” she said. “They’re in it together.”

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