Penn-Trafford, Franklin Regional, Norwin girls golf preview
Franklin Regional girls golf coach Kane Daignault once said his team's section, with perennial powers Fox Chapel and Shady Side Academy, was like having to play the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees each year.
To stick with that analogy, the section just added the Giants and Dodgers, as well.
Few would argue that Section 3-AAA is the toughest in the WPIAL after Penn-Trafford and Kiski Area - both WPIAL finalists in the old Division II last year - join Norwin, Franklin Regional, Gateway and Indiana in an effort to wrest away one of the two playoff spots that have belonged to Fox Chapel and Shady Side Academy every year since 2007.
Penn-Trafford is the favorite to break into the top two, as the Warriors return all but one player from last year's Division II runner-up team. Franklin Reg-ional also brings back a team with plenty of varsity experience, while Norwin will rely heavily on contributions from its underclassmen this fall.
Below is a look at how each team stacks up entering the year:
The Warriors make the leap up in classification after back-to-back runner-up finishes in the lower division, but past regular season and postseason scores indicate that P-T will match up well with the top teams.
Seniors Mia Barchetti and Haley Borkovich and juniors Royse Bachtel and Casey Doran all return from the lineup from last year's WPIAL playoffs. Barchetti also was a state qualifier as an individual last year, while Borkovich reached the PIAA Western Regional.
Another senior, Morgan Rector, will round out the starting lineup for P-T to start this year.
But the team season has come to a disappointing end for the last two seasons, and that will be a big motivator for the squad this year.
"The girls made a name for themselves the last couple of years by winning as much as they did," Warriors coach Ed Herbst said. "They've played enough this summer, they've worked hard, and they're hungry for a championship."
Rounding out the varsity group to start the year will be senior Megan Gruenwald, junior Rachel Huber and sophomore Elisabeth Papa, while sophomores Maddie Vitelli, Morgan Cermac and Abby Bechtell all are waiting in the wings to help P-T reload, whether they are called upon this season or in future years.
The one difference for the Warriors this year will be how early they are pushed.
While a playoff spot was a virtual certainty when the team was in its old section, this year, Penn-Trafford will need to be strong from the start to make another appearance in the WPIAL semifinals.
"We're going to have more matches that we really need to be focused," Herbst said. "We're not going to be able to take a day off and beat someone by 40 strokes.
"We're playing some tough teams and some tough courses, but I think we're up to the challenge. (Defending WPIAL champ) Shady Side Academy always reloads, but we look forward to the challenge, and I think they're looking forward to facing us, as well."
The Warriors were to open section play Tuesday against Gateway before going on the road to face Indiana on Friday.
The Panthers, like P-T, bring back most of their lineup from a season ago. But unlike the Warriors, Franklin Regional lacks postseason experience, as the team's last playoff berth came back in 2006.
Leading FR will be seniors Alex Schwab and Brianna Molinaro and juniors Hanna Bartolo and Jordan Woyt, all of whom featured in the varsity lineup last year.
The team also adds freshman Olivia Molinaro to the mix, while seniors Rachel Hobbi and Megan Slatosky, junior Jen Brand and sophomore Brenna Scott all could see the lineup this season.
"We have a lot of seniors, and all of them have played four years for me now," Daignault said.
"There's a lot of experience, I just hope they take the step to the next level together.
"I think Alex Schwab has been one of the biggest hitters in the WPIAL, but her short game has caught up this year. She'll be able to do some things this year, and the same for Brianna Molinaro; she'll be a four-year letterman for us."
Daignault said his players know how strong some of their opponents will be, but his girls know they can only control their own play on the course.
Although it will be an uphill climb to reach the top two of the section, the FR coach indicated that his team could surprise some teams.
"I'm not sure what the WPIAL has against this section. It's a shame because some really good teams aren't going to get the chance to be in the playoffs," he said.
"Not many of my girls play all year round, so at the beginning, they might start slow. But as our girls see the competition and see how they manage the game, that experience will be invaluable. We'll get better as the season goes on."
The Panthers were scheduled to open section play against Kiski Area Tuesday before hosting Shady Side Academy on Thursday at Murrysville.
Last year, the Knights had four seniors among their regular top five, which means this year's group will feature a lot of fresh faces on the course.
Junior Rachel DelBene is one regular starter coming back for Norwin, while sophomore Kaitlyn Spehar and senior Taylor Churchfield both have established themselves as starters entering this season.
Norwin coach Mike Buscemi has four other golfers to fill out his varsity lineup - seniors Frankki Hager and Lindsey Robinson and freshmen Ember Toth and Alyssa Idele - and all four will get their shot this season.
"Those four are battling now, and I'm looking foward to seeing who takes the opportunity," Buscemi said. "It might just be whoever has the hot hand goes in the lineup."
The Knights drew the proverbial short straw when it came to scheduling, as the team was scheduled to begin section play against the group's two powerhouses.
Norwin was scheduled to play at Shady Side Academy Tuesday, after this edition's deadline and next play its home opener Thursday against Fox Chapel at Cherry Creek.
"It's a tall task, but I'm looking forward to seeing how they react to the challenge of a match," Buscemi said. "The goal for my girls is to play to their ability because we're going to play some teams that can play incredibly well.
"We have to focus on what we do as individuals. I talk with our freshmen about keeping their heads up on a daily basis. The girls need to continue to learn, and they're going to help this team in the future."