Fox Chapel golf team embraces pressure of maintaining winning legacy
With country clubs abounding in the school district and past success represented by well-stocked trophy cases, Fox Chapel's boys golf team is held to a standard that many teams will never experience or comprehend.
Fox Chapel is supposed to be good at golf. Players grow up playing the game with the best equipment and instruction.
Coaches and players acknowledge the reputation, but also embrace it.
“What people don't realize is how much these kids work behind the scenes; the time they put in at the range and practicing,” Foxes coach Bryan Deal said. “These kids don't just get off the bus and go play golf.”
Fox Chapel has four WPIAL team golf titles, and a fifth could be on the horizon. One of the school's better-assembled groups — and perhaps its deepest — is preparing for Tuesday's Class AAA semifinals.
The Foxes (15-0), fresh off their sixth unblemished section title, will open the postseason Tuesday morning against eight teams at River Forest Country Club in Allegheny Township.
The top three advance to the WPIAL finals Oct. 10 at Cedarbrook Golf Course near Belle Vernon.
“We're not hiding our goals,” Foxes senior No. 1 player Patrick Sheerer said. “We're had it out there since the beginning of the season. We are shooting for gold.”
Fox Chapel has four WPIAL titles, the last in 2006 — its last undefeated season (18-0). The 1974 team also did not lose en route to the title.
“We've been in the playoffs the last three years,” Deal said. “But we haven't advanced to the finals. I think this year we have more experience, and that should help us.”
Deal isn't as concerned with a perfect record as he is winning a championship. The Foxes played a strong schedule that included two matches each against Latrobe and West Allegheny, and others against Central Catholic and North Allegheny.
“I'd rather have a .500 record and be playing matches that get us better prepared (for the playoffs),” he said. “Golf is a team sport, and we've been building for the playoffs.”
Deal had 37 players at season-opening tryouts. He struggled to keep 40 players healthy on a Class AAAA football roster when he coached that sport at the school.
He conducts two-day tryouts at Pittsburgh National Golf Club, then takes the top 20 players to Oglebay Resort for a type of “training camp” event before the regular season opens.
With no clear No. 5 and 6 players for much of the season, Deal has an in-season competition where players with the best cumulative scores in matches earn starting spots in the playoffs.
The top four spots are secure, but No. 5 was open as of late last week.
“It makes it fun and challenges them to compete,” Deal said.
Senior Jordan Alfery hopes to be ready for the playoffs. He withdrew from the WPIAL individual finals with a back injury.
Sheerer said despite the large numbers in the program, players get along and push each other to play well.
“We like to have fun on the range, and we go out to eat together all the time,” Sheerer said. “But when it's time for a match, we get focused. The biggest thing is to forget about the bad holes and move on. You're going to have bad holes, but you have to move on.”
The best example of the team's depth came in the Richard Cullinan Invitational, which included heavy hitters North Allegheny and Pine-Richland, among others. The headliners took a backseat, though, including the host Foxes, who entered two teams in the event at Pittsburgh Field Club.
Their “B” team of non-starters upset their big brothers, 204-205.
“They were all happy,” Sheerer said. “We were pretty disappointed because we wanted to win, but it was bittersweet, I guess.”
Another time, the varsity team shot 190 without Sheerer in the lineup.
Opponents have trouble combating the Foxes' lineup, which rarely yields nine-hole scores that are under 40.
“When we played them, their throw-away score was 39; how do you compete with that?” said Kiski Area coach Matt Stasko, whose Cavaliers are making a return to the playoffs after finishing in a three-way tie for second place in Section 4-AAA with Plum and Franklin Regional. “They're always just tremendous.”
The head-to-head tiebreaker proved to be a deadlock, which allowed four Section 4 teams to advance.
Franklin Regional defeated Kiski Area twice, Kiski Area beat Plum twice and Plum beat Franklin Regional twice, “and that completed the cycle,” Stasko said.