Steve Yovich was familiar with Josh James’ golf game well before his first official tee shot for Union City.
Yovich, the Bears’ veteran coach, began watching James earnestly compete on local courses as a sixth-grader.
James’ desire to hit better — albeit fewer — drives, chips and putts only blossomed.
“You could tell he loved to play,” Yovich said. “When he got to high school, you could just tell he was a gamer. He was able to raise his level of play and just, as they say, take it one shot at a time.”
It’s highly doubtful the 36-hole PIAA golf tournament, which begins Monday at State College, will be James’ last appearance in a such a formal event. It will, though, be his last formal event in one of the Bears’ green golf shirts.
The senior also is in position to accomplish a feat no District 10 golfer has since the tournament’s creation.
James is the state’s defending champion for the Class 2A boys field. He won last fall’s one-round competition with an even-par 72.
That tournament was held at York’s Heritage Hills Golf Resort, which had hosted most individual and team play dating back to 2002. All PIAA action returns to Penn State University’s Blue and White Courses for the first time since then.
The 2A boys are scheduled to compete on the 6,386-yard Blue Course. Should James claim back-to-back gold medals, he’d be the district’s first to do that since Franklin’s Barrett Melvin won the state’s inaugural open-class tournament in 1935 and then again in 1936.
James didn’t want to dwell on that possibility after his victory in the district’s 2A boys tournament (6-over 150) at The Country Club of Meadville. But he’s glad to know others in the Union City community will be rooting for him the next two days.
“It feels good to know everyone there is behind me,” James said. “The school is so supportive.”
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Kemp qualifies in his secondary sport
James was the best of the district’s eight 2A boys who will be formally introduced ahead of Monday’s first round. He’s also one of five from Erie County.
Another is Owen Kemp. The North East senior, with a 161, finished sixth at districts.
Kemp advanced to states even though he doesn’t consider golf his primary sport. He played rounds for the Grapepickers while simultaneously competing for their boys soccer program.
North East is 9-5-2 going into the final week of its regular season.
“My (golf) goal was really just to make it to districts,” Kemp said. “But after (the first round), I realized I had a good chance to qualify for states. To be able to handle that pressure to qualify is really exciting.”
Kemp said he doesn’t know what to expect as to how he’ll fare at State College. However, he also expects to be stress-free because of that.
“Enjoy the day,” Kemp said. “Not everyone can say they went to states.”
The other county golfers who will tee up are Nathan Feltmeyer of Fort LeBoeuf, Will Fessler of Fairview and Andrew Hatton of Iroquois.
Other Erie County notables in action
James is the lone district qualifier who’s a past PIAA individual champ.
When it comes to former state team titlists, though, the northwestern Pennsylvania contingent is stacked.
Breckin Taylor was a freshman when Cathedral Prep finished first for the 2020 3A tournament. The trophy those Ramblers received was placed aside the open-class one presented to the program’s 2008 team.
Taylor 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 all state action at Heritage Hills.
Taylor more than recovered from that result earlier this month. The junior, at 1-over 145, beat Erie High’s Kyle Westfall by seven shots for first place at districts. He also helped Prep reclaim first-place honors in the team portion of the tournament.
“My mental game is so much better now,” Taylor said. “It kind of works that way as you get older. I’m staying patient with my game and my swing. I’m getting to a point where I’m really confident with everything.”
Also vying for first atop the 2A girls scoreboard is North East’s Anna Swan. Now a junior, she and her older sister Lydia Swan led the Grapepickers when they won the PIAA’s 2020 small-school tournament.
Lydia Swan was the state’s individual 2A gold medalist in 2019. The recent North East graduate is in her first semester at Oral Roberts University, where she’s playing Division I women’s golf for the Tulsa, Oklahoma, school.
Hornets hope to defend
The 2A girls portion of Wednesday’s single-round PIAA team tournament provides the district with its best chance at success.
Hickory seeks to repeat as the state’s best small-school program. The Hornets only graduated one starter from their 2021 championship team and their starting five at Penn State are all underclassmen.
Sasha Petrochko, who also won the district’s 2A individual tournament last fall, and Ava Liburdi are juniors.
Mercyhurst Prep initially didn’t qualify, but later received an at-large berth from the state for Wednesday’s competition. Junior Katie Caryl and seniors Izzy Barbero and Lia Macek have been the regular trio of low scorers for the Lakers and coach Kathy Lynch.
Also competing Wednesday are Lakeview in the 2A boys field and McDowell in 3A girls. Cathedral Prep won the district’s 3A boys title, but was eliminated in an ensuing subregion tournament.
Contact Mike Copper at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNcopper.
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Starting tee times and holes for District 10 golfers in Monday’s first round of the PIAA tournament at Penn State University’s Blue and White Courses in State College:
Class 2A boys
8:50 a.m: Josh James, Union City
9:10: Jacob Wolak, Slippery Rock
9:40: Nathan Feltmeyer, Fort LeBoeuf
8:35 a.m: Cade Bender, West Middlesex
8:55: Will Fessler, Fairview
9:15: Owen Kemp, North East
9:25: Andrew Hatton, Iroquois
9:35: Joe Grundy, Saegertown
Class 2A girls
10:10 a.m: Anna Swan, North East
10:30: Kate Sowers, West Middlesex
10:05 a.m: Sasha Petrochko, Hickory
10:15: Zoe Stern, Reynolds
10:25: Katie Caryl, Mercyhurst Prep; Luciana Masters, Hickory
10:35: AnnaMarie Zinram, Cathedral Prep
Class 3A boys
8:50 a.m: Breckin Taylor, Cathedral Prep
9:10: Kyle Westfall, Erie High
Class 3A girls
10:10 a.m: Elizabeth D’Andrea