Quaker Valley golfer enjoys breakthrough junior season

Sunday, October 29, 2023 | 11:01 AM

Quaker Valley junior Ethan Dai took his golf game to the next level in 2023.

In an unforgettable season, Dai finished as the WPIAL runner-up in Class 2A then went on to tie for fourth at the PIAA tournament at Penn State.

Coach Greg Vecchi said Dai has improved by leaps and bounds during his time in the QV boys golf program.

“Ethan had such an incredible season,” Vecchi said. “He just distanced himself from most other golfers and stood out even more than he did last year.

“We’ve had some really talented golfers on our team in the past who somehow take their game up one more level after they just had a great season. Ethan is now one of those golfers. His 2022 was so solid, but his 2023 easily surpassed ‘22. He went from 35th, or so, in the state to fourth. That’s an incredible jump.”

Dai, 16, was the first-round leader at the WPIAL finals thanks to a 3-under par 69 that included four birdies, one bogey and 13 pars. After making birdies on the first two holes on the back nine, he wrapped up his day on the 6,431-yard, par-72 course with seven consecutive pars.

“Ethan’s round was fantastic,” Vecchi said afterwards. “His confidence is high, and his game is always impressive.”

Dai was the only one among the 69 golfers in 2A able to shoot a score in the 60s in either round of the WPIAL championships.

Round 1 of the WPIAL tournament took place Sept. 25 at Willowbrook’s blue course. Round 2 was held Oct. 2 at Butler Country Club (par 71, 6,562-yards).

The 5-foot-9, 135-pound Dai logged a 75 at Butler’s to end up second, two shots behind Frazier senior Nixen Erderly.

“I was a little disappointed after finishing second at WPIALs, but that’s just more motivation for me to get even better,” Dai said. “I finished tied for fourth at the PIAA playoffs with a 1-over and 1-under. I was pretty happy with how I finished making a little bit of a comeback on the second day.

“I think I played well in the state tournament. Although I didn’t win, I put up a respectable score.”

Dai carded a 73-71-144 total at the two-day PIAA tournament. He tied for fourth with two seniors, Riverside’s Michael Maslanka and Eden Christian’s Luke Gronbeck.

Nick Werner, a junior at Wyoming Seminary, was the 2A champion with a 138 score as he and Dai were the top finishers among juniors in 2A.

“Ethan’s mechanics are top-notch, which led to his incredible consistency this season,” Vecchi said. “His confidence in his game is easily evident, too. There’s no fear with Ethan.

“Due to all of the time, effort and tournaments, he has improved in all facets. His driving distance and accuracy improvement have really stood out to me.”

Dai averages about 290 yards per drive. He said that part of his game is his best and sets up the other parts (iron play, chipping, putting, etc.).

“The strength of my game is my driving,” Dai said, “but I’d say everything is pretty well-rounded. I focused a lot on improving my putting over the summer.”

A three-time PIAA qualifier, Dai zeroed in on first place with a 1-under par 70 at the Section 9-2A qualifier Sept. 18 Rolling Acres.

“I only see Ethan improving even more over the next year,” Vecchi said. “He loves the game, so he’ll put in the time. I can’t say that Ethan will be first in the WPIAL and at states next year since golf rounds can be so unpredictable, but I would guess that he’ll be at least very near the top in both.”

Dai and junior Nolan Wagoner led the Quaker Valley boys golf team to a co-section championship with Eden Christian this season. Both golfers repeated as WPIAL qualifiers.

“The team this year did amazing,” Dai said. “Honestly, everyone performed above expectations, and I believe everyone can improve even more.”

The Quakers’ top golfers a year ago were Dai, Wagoner, Jonah Schollaert, Jackson Bould, Adam Renner and Eva Bulger, a four-time WPIAL girls individual champion.

“I was so happy for our team to finish tied at the top of our section,” Vecchi said. “After losing four terrific golfers (to graduation) after last year, I really didn’t know what to expect from the new and younger starters. They seemed to have worked hard in the offseason.

“We started out slowly but ended up having two of our best rounds late in the season, so that was a big positive.”

Will Newlin, Ryan Dusch and Makenna Kamnikar were sophomore team members at QV. Kamnikar played on the junior varsity squad last year.

Rounding out the team were newcomers Michael Ponzo, a senior, Henry Zubanc, a sophomore, and El Folabit, a junior.

Wagoner, who shot a 167 at WPIALs and tied for second with a 74 at the section qualifier, was hoping the Quakers would find a way to compete for a section crown in 2023 despite the lack of senior leadership on the team. That’s where he and Dai fit in.

“Ethan and I (were) expected to lead by example and show our teammates the ropes around the new courses,” Wagoner said. “During the summer, I knew I had a lot of improvement that needed to be done and made some swing and grip changes. I’d like to think Ethan and I both have taken a leadership role for our team.”

Vecchi said Dai and Wagoner, the two longest hitters for QV, were unofficial team captains this season.

“Both have strong heads for the game,” Vecchi said. “If they have trouble at any point, they have the ability to focus on the next ball. That’s important for any level.

“We don’t name captains, but I go to Nolan and Ethan for their thoughts on different team things.”

Quaker Valley and Mohawk tied for third in the WPIAL 2A team tournament with a score of 431.

The right-handed hitting Dai, who is aiming to average 300 yards on his drives next season, recorded the day’s lowest round with a 2-over par 74.

The Quakers won the section championship with a 10-0 record in 2022 and tied for first with an 8-2 mark this year.


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