Led by junior class, Derry golf program reaching new heights

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Wednesday, October 13, 2021 | 10:09 AM


Over the last year, Hunter Jurica’s golf game has taken off.

The proof? A 13-stroke improvement from last year’s WPIAL Class 2A individual championships to this season, and a trip to the PIAA championships for the first time in the junior’s career.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m happy, but I started off well,” said Jurica, who finished with a 10-over-par score of 80, tying for 10th at the event at Allegheny Country Club. “I finished my front nine and was 3-over through nine holes, which is solid for that course.

“I went to the back nine and didn’t play well. I had three (double bogeys) on the back nine. But, overall, I’m just happy I made it (to the PIAA championships). That was my goal. That was pretty significant. I knew I had it in me to play pretty well.”

Derry’s coach, Tracey Smeltzer, credited Jurica’s work ethic and commitment to studying the course.

“That experience of playing at Allegheny Country Club last year, coming into this year, he knew what to expect,” Smeltzer said. “He was better prepared. He made up his mind last year that he was not going to miss the cut this year.”

Jurica next will turn his attention to the WPIAL Class 2A team championships and the PIAA individual tournament Oct. 18.

Unfortunately for Derry, he’ll be the lone Trojan golfer to participate at states, as fellow junior Antonio Houser tied for 17th at 13-over but lost a playoff that kept him out of the PIAA field. Derry’s other competitor, Ashton Beighley, placed 39th.

“Antonio has a tremendous amount of work ethic, and so does Ashton,” Smeltzer said. “They both put in the time, the work. Antonio’s goal was to break 100, then it was to break 90. And he went out and shot an 83. He played better than bogey golf and was thrown into the fire, having to play sudden death. And it was a couple of bad bounces that knocked him out of that playoff.”

That trio — all juniors — are part of a Derry program that split the Section 2-2A title with Greensburg Central Catholic — a third straight section trophy for a program that had not won one since 1974.

“It really shows the team what we’ve created, especially with us juniors being the top three guys on the team, and how much dominance we have,” Jurica said. “It’s really cool.”

“They’ve been successful because all they want to do is golf,” Smeltzer added. “They just come out, work, get along as a team and bring each other up.”

Smeltzer was also highly complimentary of her seniors, John and Will Hugas in particular, who started working with the team while still in middle school.

“I’ve watched them grow as players and work to get better and work their way into the starting lineup this year,” Smeltzer said. “And Nick Thomas is the other senior. He hit his stride here at the end.

“They’ve done a tremendous job, and they’ve had these juniors right behind them. Their scores, coupled with those seniors’ scores, have us where we’re at.”

The three juniors have the entire team believing next season could be very special for the Trojans.

“Me, Antonio and Ashton, we’re all juniors and have been best friends since we were kids,” Jurica said. “So playing together with each other all year and knowing that we can play well together, that’s what really matters.

“It gives me a lot of motivation. As a junior, I still have a lot of growth left in me, mentally and physically, for next year. So, senior year I’m going to try to show off a little bit.”

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