By Greg Gulas
The YSU golf team will join their female counterparts this week at Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla., looking to capture its first ever Horizon League championship.
Head coach Tony Joy Jr. is hoping that the 54-hole tournament, which takes place Friday-Sunday at Mission Inn Resort, is the exclamation mark to what has been a steadily improving spring season.
“We’ve started to play much more consistently since the weather has permitted us to both play and also practice outdoors,” Joy said. “Last week, we finished eighth out of 14 teams at the Penn State Rutherford Intercollegiate Tournament and two weeks prior at lndiana University’s NYX Hoosier Invitational finished fourth out of 14 teams.
“The fact that we’ve been able to compete with some of the more established teams from larger conferences is a very good sign as we head to this year’s conference tournament.”
You have to go back to 2006 when YSU finished runner-up to Cleveland State; their best Horizon League finish.
If they are to improve on last year’s sixth-place finish (they shot 911) and dethrone defending champion Valparaiso (884), then the five players who played last year’s tournament will determine their fate.
The five players being asked to carry the load include Mark Olbrych, the Penguins’ lone senior; Bryan Yeo, the team’s sole junior and a sophomore trio comprised of Bill Gaffney, D.J. Holub and Brandon Pluchinsky.
“All five players have had some excellent rounds this spring and averaged 75 or better,” Joy said. “It’s a big advantage when you have the same five players from last year playing the same course. The fact that Mark is playing better than he did in the fall should really give us an excellent chance to compete for the title.”
Pluchinsky’s final round 66 a year ago was the top individual round of the tournament while his 225 overall was good enough for an 11th place finish.
He will enter the league tourney with a 75.2 average, having shot a team best 68 round this spring at the Indiana NYX Hoosier Invitational.
“I have good memories of last year and the course and hope to build off of that,” Pluchinsky said. “Keeping the ball on the fairway and hitting all of the greens will be the key. I need to two-putt because anything over that can be costly.”
Joy has been pleased with his sophomore’s development and said having already played Mission Inn Resort should be an advantage.
“Brandon has been one of our most consistent players this year while his ability to shoot under par is something that you just cannot teach,” Joy said. “He is someone that we are definitely counting on this weekend.”
Yeo and Gaffney enter play with team best 74.5 averages with Yeo’s eighth-place finish at the Villanova Wildcat Invitational his top effort and Gaffney’s eighth-place finish (which included two rounds of 69) at the NYX Hoosier Invitational his crowning spring moment.
“This will be my third year playing the course and I’m really looking forward it. As a team we’ve been playing really well of late so we are definitely peaking at the right time,” Yeo said.
Gafffney said the experience that all five players gained last year was invaluable in preparing for this year’s tourney.
“Our depth is our strength and if we play like we have of late then there’s no reason why we cannot win the tournament. We just don’t want to beat ourselves,” Gaffney said.
With another year of experience under their belts, Joy feels both players will have a say in the final outcome.
“The experience Bryan has gained over the past two years while playing the course should pay dividends this year,” Joy said. “As for Bill, he’s one of our longest hitters and has an excellent short game. The way he’s played this spring gives him a legitimate shot at making all-league.”
Holub’s 75.1 average includes an 11th place finish and low round 70 at last weekend’s Penn State University Rutherford Intercollegiate Tournament while Olbrych, an all-league honoree last year, will take a 76.8 average into tournament play.
“I’m hitting the ball well right now after going back to the way I used to grip my club at the Penn State Tournament. My confidence is there and I am really looking for the start of the tourney,” Holub stated.
Olbrych lists a ninth-place finish at the NYX Hoosier Invitational and 12th place finish at the Villanova Wildcat Invitational as his best spring efforts.
“Our goal is to win it all and the way the team is playing right now is a real confidence-builder as we head to conference play,” Olbrych said. “Staying confident, making putts and playing the way we are capable of playing will determine our outcome.”
Joy stated that Olbrych is playing his best golf right now while Holub has fared well against some of the nation’s top competition.
“D.J. played really well in the fall and has come on strong this spring. Finishing 11th at Penn State against a really strong field is a real confidence-builder,” Joy noted. “As for Mark, he’s a four-year letterwinner and two-year captain and we’ll look to him for leadership this weekend.”
Other roster members this year include Justin Hallapy (freshman); Trevor Jones (senior); Thomas Lydic (freshman) and Steven Sveda (sophomore).
On Friday, YSU will be paired with defending champion Valparaiso and Cleveland State and will tee off at 8:40 a.m.