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Ray, Pikunas shine in stormy Greatest Golfer junior final


Published: Mon, July 28, 2014 @ 12:05 a.m.

Ray, Pikunas shine in stormy final

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Jacinta Pikunas chips onto the green from the bunker on the 18th hole Sunday afternoon at Avalon Lakes Golf and Country Club in Howland during The Vindicator Greatest Golfer of the Valley Junior Championships. Pikunas won the 17-U Division with 68.

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Nolan Snyder, Donavan Ray and Bradley Miller pose with their trophies after winning the boys 17-and-under division at Avalon Lakes Golf and Country Club, wrapping up the 2014 Greatest Golfer of the Valley Junior Tournament.

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U-17 Girls Christina Cooper, Jacinta Pikunas and Kaylee Neumeister pose for a picture with their trophies Sunday evening at Avalon Lakes Country Club, wrapping up the 2014 Greatest Golfer of the Valley Junior Tournament.

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U-14 Boys Cole Christman, Jared Wilson and Jimmy Graham pose for a picture with their trophies Sunday evening at Avalon Lakes Country Club, wrapping up the 2014 Greatest Golfer of the Valley Junior Tournament.

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U-14 Girls Hannah Keffler, Jenna Vivo and Britney Jonda pose for a picture with their trophies Sunday evening at Avalon Lakes Country Club, wrapping up the 2014 Greatest Golfer of the Valley Junior Tournament.

By Kevin Connelly

kconnelly@vindy.com

WARREN

Donavan Ray had to wait through a 45-minute rain delay and stressfully watch from the edge of the 18th green as the final group finished.

It took a while, but Ray eventually was able to breathe a sigh of relief when he realized his 2-over par 74 was enough to win the boys 17-and-under Greatest Golfer of the Valley Junior championship.

Ray, 16, qualified for Sunday’s final at Avalon Lakes Golf and Country Club through the points system. Once he was in the field, he knew he had a shot at taking the title.

“I worked really hard for this,” said Ray, who played 54 holes at Avalon Lakes on Saturday to prepare for the finals.

“I knew I was 3-over par coming in after my first nine, but managed to turn it around. I finished badly, but it’s still a good feeling.”

The Howland High School junior was in the first group of the day that teed off at 1 p.m. Mother Nature halted play just after 5 p.m., but Ray was in one of two groups that managed to finish their rounds before the stoppage. When play resumed, Nolan Snyder and Bradley Miller made a run at Ray’s score.

Miller bogeyed the last hole and Snyder double-bogeyed, securing the victory for Ray. They finished second and third, respectively.

“I know they’re really good players, but in the end I was really surprised they didn’t [convert],” Ray said. “In the end it worked out for me.”

Ray said he’s played in bigger tournaments, but this win ranks near the top in his young career.

“This one’s a good feeling because it’s my home course,” he said.

Jacinta Pikunas’ wait was longer, but resulted in a different kind of satisfaction. She was the 2011 champion, but hadn’t found her way back to the top of the podium again until Sunday.

Pikunas, 15, shot the round of the day with a 4-under par 68 to win the girls 17-and-under division.

“I had a really good day,” Pikunas said. “All my shots were on and my putting — I couldn’t have putted any better, I don’t think.

“I made a lot of very important par putts just to keep me on track and I think that really helped.”

Last year’s champion, Christina Cooper, took third with a round of 76, behind Kaylee Neumeister’s score of 73. Pikunas used the pressure of the final group — pairing three past champions — as a positive.

“They’re all very good players and great competition,” Pikunas said. “I knew I had a lot of competition today, but I think it really helps me to be a better player when I play with better people.

“You see the better shots and you kind of feed off their game.”

Jared Wilson was also impressive in his championship round of 3-under par 69. He beat out Cole Christman, Jimmy Graham and Brian Terlesky for the boys 14-and-under title.

Wilson, who chipped in for eagle on the 15th from 50 yards out, has put together back-to-back rounds of 69 in Greatest competition. “I’m always happy if I shoot that — I mean it’s a good round,” said Wilson, who’s going into his freshman year at Columbiana. “High school [golf] starts in about a week, so this is a good tuneup.”

Jenna Vivo defended her title in the girls 14-and-under division with a round of 79, nine shots better than her competition. Hannah Keffler and Britney Jonda placed second and third.

“I just practice like almost everyday,” Vivo said. “I’m just trying my best to focus on each tournament one at a time as they come.”


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