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Ford City boys golf team deep and balanced

| Friday, Aug. 17, 2012, 1:23 a.m.
Ford City senior Joe Cippel (left) consults with junior Matt Klingensmith, who lines up a putt during a practice round at Lenape Heights Golf Course on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012.
Ford City senior Andrew Labutka watches his putt during a practice round at Lenape Heights Golf Course on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012. (Bill West | Leader Times)

There's no big-hitting, birdie-making star on Ford City's boys golf team this season, but the Sabers' depth should test even the best opponents in Section 1-AA.

All six starters return, and a few new additions give Ford City ample options for its five-man scores. Whether any Saber will consistently come close to par is uncertain. But first-year coach Joe Cali and his golfers believe there's no shortage of shooters who can stay in the 40s for nine holes.

“Really, any day, any one of our six can shoot a No. 1 score,” senior Andrew Labutka said. “It just depends who gets hot.”

Labutka, Joe Cippel and Jesse Valasek are back after serving as reliable juniors a year ago, when Ford City finished above .500 but missed the team playoffs. They enter their final season with increased confidence. But none are too concerned where they'll land in the lineup.

“Personally, I like playing three or four because there's less pressure,” Cippel said. “But it doesn't really matter.”

Cali said for now, the No. 1 spot belongs to junior Chuck Cippel, who proved himself as the steadiest player during the summer. He regularly shot in the low 40s and did not exceed 45.

“That's what he brings, consistency,” Cali said. “His mental game is there. He's patient. … He's mature beyond his years.”

Chuck Cippel credits a more cerebral approach to the game for his respectable average, which he hopes will crack the high 30s by midseason.

“Last year, I was all about driving the ball far,” he said. “Then I realized that's not really what this game is about. The guys who do well are good around the green.”

Cali has made it his mission to convince every Saber about the importance of deliberation. Club selection, shot placement, risk-reward analysis — these are the means by which Cali believes he can help his golfers lower their averages.

“It's an ongoing process,” he said. “They look at golf differently as kids than I do as an adult. But it's working so far.”

Junior John Phelps and sophomore Josh Oliver are two more returning starters with the potential to score in the low 40s. Cali identified Oliver as a particularly composed underclassman.

Added to the relatively proven collection of returning starters are two former Elderton starters, junior Matt Klingensmith and Caige Crissman. Both continue to adjust to life at Lenape Heights Golf Course, which is more challenging than Elderton's home course, White Oak in Dayton.

“It's a good thing, though,” Klingensmith said. “It'll make me a better golfer.”

Freshman Luke Gross, though untested in varsity match play, has impressed Cali and gives Ford City yet another option as a fourth or fifth score.

Ford City's objective, according to Cali, is to finish with at least three scores in the low 40s. With so many options in his lineup, Cali finds his odds favorable, especially if the Sabers follow the better-safe-than-sorry philosophy.

“Golf is such a goofy game; any one of them could blow up after a shot,” Cali said. “So I just want them to contend. If they hit a bad shot, I want them to be able to move on and forget about it.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 724-543-1303 Ext. 1321.

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