Veteran lineup returns as North Allegheny golfers chase WPIAL gold

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Saturday, August 27, 2022 | 11:01 AM


There were only four freshmen able to land a spot in last year’s WPIAL Class 3A individual golf championships.

North Allegheny’s Chris Hoffman was one of the four who competed at Nemacolin Country Club. Hoffman also is one of four NA golfers back with ample varsity experience from last year.

Returning starters are senior Ethan Byrne, juniors Jake Watterson and Collin Wang, and Hoffman, now a sophomore.

“Our early expectations are that we would have a strong team that is very talented and will go far in the season,” coach Pat Niven said. “The coaches expect the kids on the three NA golf teams (one varsity, two JV) to be laser-focused for a 2 1/2-hour match after a long day of school. We tell the varsity team that their first task is hitting fairways, and that fairways lead to greens and to birdie opportunities.

“Our goal as a team is to win the section and make a run at a WPIAL title.”

The Tigers are led this season by Wang, with a 36.7 average per round, Byrne (38.5), freshman Ravi Desai (39), Hoffman (39) and Watterson (40).

“It’s early in the season, but our current stats show the top five on the team are fairly close in averages and challenge one another while on the course,” Niven said. ”Colin Ward, Jackson Talerico, Colin Rende and Zach Jubeck round out the varsity team and are solid players.

“Collin Wang ended last season with a 41.1 average and has dropped his average almost 4 1/2 strokes. Ethan Byrne also has improved from 42.3 to 38.5.”

The Tigers jumped out quickly in 2022, defeating nonsection opponents Hampton and Mt. Lebanon in their first two matches at North Park, NA’s home course.

North Allegheny was paced in their season opener by Wang, Hoffman, Watterson, and two top freshmen prospects, Ward and Desai.

Talerico, a senior, and junior Colin Rende, a junior, complemented the Tigers’ scoring.

Against Mt. Lebanon, NA’s leading golfers in the lineup consisted of Wang, Byrne, Hoffman, Watterson and Desai, who were supported by Rende, Jubeck, who is a senior, Ward and Talerico.

The Tigers dropped their first section match to Pine-Richland, 188-199, but bounced back the next day with a big section win over Butler, 184-188. Both matches took place at North Park.

Wang paced NA against Butler with a 2-under-par 34. Desai turned in even-par scores of 36 both days.

“The golfers support one another both on and off the course,” Niven said. “They help read putts and encourage each other if someone hits an errant shot.

“They will also help each other study for tests, as well as get a group together to practice on their own time.”

North Allegheny finished with a 12-6 record, including a 7-5 mark in section play, in 2021.

NA’s then-senior Dylan Fitzgerald won the Western Pennsylvania Positive Athlete award for boys golf.

Positive Athlete is a recognition program that celebrates high character, high school student-athletes and coaches who have overcome difficult circumstances, given back to their schools and communities in a significant way, or have an infectious positive attitude that makes everyone around them a better person.

“Our section has several strong teams and consistently produces great golfers, many who earn collegiate scholarships,” Niven said. “Two of our section losses last year combined for a total of a four-stroke difference, one of which was a tie that we lost in a playoff.

“We also had a second tie that accounted for one of the wins. We went 9-5 overall (in 2021) and four of the losses were by one stroke.”

The Tigers are members of Section 3-3A along with Butler, Mars, North Hills, Pine-Richland and Seneca Valley.

Niven is in his eighth season as NA’s varsity golf coach. Prior to that, he coached the JV squad for 14 years.

“Having the support from our athletic director, Bob Bozzuto, the NA boys golf program has continually grown over the last few years,” Niven said. “We had 61 athletes try out for the teams and all of the coaches like the talent we have at all levels.

“Coaches Bill Medwick and Hugh O’Neil do a great job at getting the JV golfers ready for varsity. I feel honored to be able to coach this great group of young men.”

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