Fox Chapel duo among girls golfers set for WPIAL Class AAA championships

Monday, September 30, 2019 | 7:06 PM

Fox Chapel’s Nina Busch and Erin Drahnak cut their teeth as freshmen in a deep field at last year’s WPIAL Class AAA girls individual golf championship at Diamond Run Golf Club.

Both returned this season with a goal of getting back to Diamond Run for another shot at the course and another shot at advancing to PIAA competition.

With successful scores at the Section 4 qualifier on Sept. 18, Busch and Drahnak are right on track for Wednesday’s event.

“Playing (at Diamond Run) twice last year and a practice round this year, I feel I know the course pretty well,” said Busch, who tied Kiski Area senior Bella Mercurio for fourth at the section qualifier with rounds of 87.

“It’s an advantage because I understand myself and the mental and physical mistakes I made last year and what I need to do to avoid them this time.”

Busch, Drahnak and Mercurio are among five golfers from Section 4 who will join 27 others at Diamond Run hoping to claim WPIAL Class AAA gold. The top seven finishers will move on to the PIAA Western Regional on Oct. 14 at Tom’s Run Golf Course in Blairsville.

“I am focusing on staying calm the whole time and having the best round I can,” Drahnak said. “I do believe I can make a run (at the top seven). I changed my swing, so now I am getting more distance, and I am more consistent. Now, its just fine-tuning.”

The top 11 at the Class AAA western regional, featuring those from the WPIAL and qualifiers from five other western districts, will advance to the PIAA finals Oct. 21-22.

Hampton junior Arianna Erka was the medalist at the Section 4 qualifier with an 18-hole score of 73.

Drahnak and Butler sophomore Paige Scott, who finished ninth at WPIALs last year, tied for second at the qualifier with 80s.

“Diamond Run has its quirks, but Erin and Nina know what they are getting into, and what they need to do,” said Fox Chapel coach John Broderick, who saw Drahnak tie for 18th (88) and Busch place 23rd (90) out of 34 golfers last year.

“It’s just a matter of executing their shots and keeping themselves together for 18 holes. Playing a lot of (18-hole) tournaments over the summer, they are really prepared for that.”

Mercurio makes her WPIAL finals debut and also her debut on the Diamond Run course. She said it will be a great challenge.

“I am honored to have this opportunity on a very difficult course against a lot of talented players,” she said. “I hope to have my ‘A’ game and do as well as I can. I have developed a lot as a player in my mental and physical ability.

“It all comes down to how you do that day. Everybody wants that chance. It’s a different atmosphere from the traditional (section) matches.”

Mercurio, a co-captain for the Kiski Area girls team, was celebrated with Taylor Williams on senior day last week at Apollo Elks and helped the Cavaliers defeat Norwin.

“Bella had a goal at the beginning of the season to qualify for the tournament, and I am so happy to see her accomplish this goal,” Cavaliers coach Maggie Nicholas said. “She truly is playing her best golf right now. She has improved from last season, and she also has improved from the start of this season. Her approach (at WPIALs) is just to play her game, one shot at a time, and most importantly, have fun.”

There will be a new WPIAL Class AAA girls champion this year as North Allegheny’s Caroline Wrigley, winner of the past three titles, graduated and is a member of the women’s team at Furman University.

Mt. Lebanon’s Lindsay Powanda is a favorite at Diamond Run after finishing runner-up last year as a freshman.

South Fayette sophomore Caroline McConnell, Upper St. Clair senior Sara Steve and Moon junior Rhianna Firmstone also were PIAA qualifiers in 2018, and McConnell went on to place fourth at the state finals in York.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at or via Twitter .

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