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West Shamokin golf team off to a 7-1 start

| Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2006

West Shamokin's golf team has been living up to the hype.

Prior to the start of the season, Kittanning coach Bud Stanley and Freeport coach Dave Panach each said that West Shamokin was going to be one of the toughest teams to beat, and, so far, that's been the case.

West Shamokin is 7-1, with its only loss coming against Burrell at Hill Crest Country Club. This week promises to be challenging for the Wolves, as they travel to Ford City today and then Freeport on Thursday.

Along with Burrell, Freeport, which lost all of its starters in the offseason, has emerged as one of West Shamokin's biggest challenges. The Yellowjackets lost to the Wolves, 213 -211, on the road at White Oak Golf Course earlier this season.

"A lot of credit has to be given to (West Shamokin coach) Dick Crawford," Panach said. "He's really risen that team from the bottom. He really put the time in, and with two golf courses now by the school, he had 20 kids come out. He's trying to put together a program."

Crawford is happy with the way his team has been playing, but he's far from satisfied.

"We're capable of playing better," he said. "I'd like to see us break 200."

West Shamokin came close to that goal against Apollo Ridge. The Wolves shot a 204, and, had Matt Schrader's 39 counted, they would have posted a 199. However, before the match, Schrader qualified as West Shamokin's No. 8 golfer. He would have needed to be in the top six.

Crawford described his team as being fairly even between the top six to 10 players.

"I think we're capable of doing just about anything," Crawford said. "But we have to do it on the course. You don't play the games on paper."

West Shamokin's players have been heeding Crawford's words. Over the summer, some of them visited the home courses of several of their opponents so they could better acquaint themselves with how to play on the road.

One of those players was Austin Baum, a senior who Crawford said is the most improved golfer on the team. Baum was the medalist in two of West Shamokin's last four matches, shooting a 38 against Elderton and Apollo Ridge.

Baum said he worked on his short game a lot over the summer.

"I could always hit the ball far, but I had to work on the short game," Baum said. "I kept going to the course and playing. Coach (Crawford) showed me putting drills."

Perhaps some of West Shamokin's opponents should have done the same and practiced at White Oak Golf Course, where the Wolves are unbeaten. Panach and Ford City coach Joe Sgricca said that West Shamokin enjoys a home-course advantage.

"They have a lot of experienced players," Sgricca said. "And their home course is tough. It has small greens and teams aren't used to them."

Regardless of how tough White Oak is to play, though, the Wolves' experienced players are the reason why they have jumped out to a strong start. Baum is just one of several Wolves who has the ability to be medalist. West Shamokin's other top golfers include Keifer O'Neill, who is averaging a 39.5, Schrader, Nick Byerly, Cody Dinger and Ryan Markin.

"They have four solid players that anyone can be medalist, I feel," Panach said. "But Keifer is the main guy."

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