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Early-season win raising Gateway girls golf team's confidence

| Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, 9:04 p.m.

From the outside looking in, winning one match in August might not hold a ton of significance. But for the Gateway girls golf team – a squad that has posted just two victories in the past three seasons – last week's nonsection win against Bethel Park was a big step forward.

The Gators bested Bethel Park, 198-248, last week to open their season on a positive note.

“Our goal is to improve our individual and team effort,” said head coach Dennis Persin. “We only broke 200 twice last year.

“A score of 198 would have won us eight matches last season.”

Gateway will once again lean on the talents of junior Johnna Beehner in 2014.

As a sophomore, Beehner posted a score of 78 to finish second at the sectional tournament. She went on to place seventh in the WPIAL Class AAA individual championship, which earned her a berth in the PIAA tournament.

Beehner – who owned a nine-hole scoring average of just over 38 in 2013 – is like a second coach on the course, according to Persin.

“We can split up into two groups in practice,” Persin said. “She can lead a drill, I can lead a drill, and we can have competitions.”

Through the early stages of 2014, the biggest difference Persin has observed in Beehner's game has nothing to do with mechanics or execution on the course.

“This year, one area of improvement has been the mental side of her game,” Persin said. “There's an edge to her game.

“She just goes about her business.”

Over the summer, Beehner won her second consecutive KPGA Player of the Year title.

Joining Beehner in the starting lineup are seniors Kendall Alexander, Ashley Klein and Julia Hyzy and sophomore Cassie Kokal.

Klein took lessons all summer to shore up her game, and Persin saw the improvement in her performance from the first day of practice.

“When she came out for tryouts, her drive on No. 1 was the best I'd ever seen her hit,” Persin said. “Then her drive on No. 3 was even better.

“You can tell me you took lessons over the summer, but you need to come out and show me. She did that.”

Sophomore Andrea Pancurak is new to the team this season. With Hyzy unavailable, Pancurak posted a 58 in the Bethel Park match last week.

“She expressed some interest in playing last season, but she didn't come out,” Persin said. “She was so excited (to play in her first match) and have her score count.”

Adding Pancurak to his five returning players not only gives Persin more options in terms of lineup combinations, it will force his players to step up their respective games every time they hit the course.

“Now there's competition for those starting spots,” Persin said. “Practices matter more. Matches matter more.”

Providing depth are junior Natalia Steen, sophomore Alexa Shearer and freshmen Eibhlin Terrell and Samantha Smith.

Steen and Shearer were on the team last season, but they didn't start any matches. They've shown improvement, according to Persin, but their availability is limited because they're also members of the cheerleading squad.

Terrell and Smith have never played golf before, so their focus in practice is on the basics of the golf swing – setup, stance, grip and balance.

“It's an important year for them,” Persin said. “They're doing more practice work, but they're capable.”

The Gators are slated to open Section 3-AAA play on Tuesday, Aug. 26, against Franklin Regional.

Kevin Ritchart is a freelance writer.

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