Steve Yovich knew Josh James’ golf game long before his first official tee shot for Union City.
Yovich, the veteran Bears coach, began watching James compete seriously on local courses in sixth grade.
James’ desire to hit better – albeit less – drives, chips and putts only blossomed.
“You could tell he loved playing,” Yovich said. “When he came to high school, you could tell he was a player. He was able to raise his level of play and, as they say, take one hit at a time.
It is highly doubtful that the 36-hole PIAA golf tournament, which begins Monday at State College, will be James’ last appearance at such a formal event. It will, however, be his last official event in one of the Bears’ green golf jerseys.
The senior is also able to accomplish a feat that no District 10 golfer has achieved since the tournament’s inception.
James is the defending state champion for the Class 2A boys field. He won the one-round meet last fall with an even par of 72.
This tournament was held at Heritage Hills Golf Resort in York, which had hosted most individual and team matches since 2002. All PIAA action returns to Penn State University‘s blue and white courses for the first time since during.
2A boys must compete on the 6,386 yard blue course. If James won back-to-back gold medals, he would be the first in the district to do so since Franklin’s Barrett Melvin won the state’s first open tournament in 1935 and again in 1936.
James didn’t want to dwell on that possibility after winning the District 2A Men’s Tournament (6 of 150) at Meadville Country Club. But he is happy to know that other members of the Union City community will support him over the next two days.
“It feels good to know that everyone is behind me,” James said. “The school is so supportive.”
Kemp qualifies in his secondary sport
James was the top of eight 2A boys in the district who will be officially introduced ahead of Monday’s first round. He is also one of five in Erie County.
Another is Owen Kemp. The North East senior, with a 161, finished sixth in the districts.
Kemp has advanced in the United States even though he does not consider golf his primary sport. He played rounds for the Grapepickers while simultaneously participating in their men’s soccer program.
North East is 9-5-2 going into the final week of its regular season.
“My goal (in golf) was really to get to the districts,” Kemp said. “But after (the first round) I realized I had a good chance of qualifying for the States. Being able to handle that pressure to qualify is really exciting.
Kemp said he didn’t know what to expect about how he would fare at State College. However, he also expects to be stress-free because of it.
“Enjoy the day,” Kemp said. “Not everyone can say he went to states.”
Other county golfers who will tee off are Nathan Feltmeyer of Fort LeBoeuf, Will Fessler of Fairview and Andrew Hatton of Iroquois.
Other Erie County notables in action
James is the only district qualifier who is a former PIAA Individual Champion.
When it comes to old state team title rosters, however, the Northwestern Pennsylvania contingent is stacked.
Breckin Taylor was a freshman when Cathedral Prep finished first in the 2020 3A tournament. The trophy these Ramblers received was set aside for the Open Class trophy presented to the program’s 2008 team.
Taylor is tied for 20th place in the 2020 PIAA 3A Individual Tournament. He missed the cut for the first round of last fall’s District Tournament, which denied him any state action at Heritage Hills.
Taylor has more than recovered from that result earlier this month. The junior, at 1 of 145, beat Erie High’s Kyle Westfall by seven strokes for first place in the districts. He also helped Prep reclaim first place honors in the tag team portion of the tournament.
“My mental game is so much better now,” Taylor said. “It sort of works like that as you get older. I remain patient with my game and my swing. I’m getting to a point where I’m really confident with everything.
Anna Swan of North East is also in contention for the top spot in the 2A girls standings. Now a junior, she and her older sister Lydia Swan led the Grapepickers when they won the 2020 PIAA Small Schools Tournament.
Lydia Swan was the state’s 2019 Individual 2A Gold Medalist. The recent Northeast graduate is in her first semester at Oral Roberts University, where she plays Division I women’s golf for the school in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Hornets hope to defend
The 2A girls portion of Wednesday’s PIAA single-round tag team tournament offers the district its best chance of success.
Hickory is looking to repeat as the best early school program in the state. The Hornets only got one starter from their 2021 championship team and their five starters at Penn State are all underclass.
Sasha Petrochko, who also won the district 2A individual tournament last fall, and Ava Liburdi are juniors.
Mercyhurst Prep did not initially qualify but later received an offshore berth for Wednesday’s competition. Junior Katie Caryl and seniors Izzy Barbero and Lia Macek have been the regular low-scoring trio for the Lakers and coach Kathy Lynch.
Also competing Wednesday are Lakeview in the 2A boys and McDowell in the 3A girls. Cathedral Prep won the District 3A men’s title, but were eliminated in a subsequent sub-region tournament.
Tee times and holes begin for District 10 golfers in the first round of Monday’s PIAA Tournament on Penn State University’s blue and white courses at State College:
Class 2A boys
8:50 am: Josh James, Union City
9:10 a.m.: Jacob Wolak, Slippery Rock
9:40 a.m.: Nathan Feltmeyer, Fort LeBoeuf
8:35 a.m.: Cade Bender, West Middlesex
8:55 p.m.: Will Fessler, Fairview
9:15 a.m.: Owen Kemp, Northeast
9:25 am: Andrew Hatton, Iroquois
9:35 am: Joe Grundy, Saegertown
Class 2A Girls
10:10 a.m.: Anna Swan, Northeast
10.30am: Kate Sowers, West Middlesex
10:05 am: Sasha Petrochko, Hickory
10:15 am: Zoe Stern, Reynolds
10:25 am: Katie Caryl, Mercyhurst preparation; Luciana Masters, Hickory
10:35 a.m.: AnnaMarie Zinram, preparation of the cathedral
Class 3A boys
8:50 a.m.: Breckin Taylor, preparation at the cathedral
9:10 am: Kyle Westfall, Erie High
Class 3A Girls
10:10 am: Elizabeth D’Andrea