State College, Pa. - For the first time in ten years, the Hazleton Nittany Lion golfers are back on top after winning the Penn State University Athletic Conference Championship on Tuesday at the Penn State Blue Course in State College, Pa. Hazleton took a commanding 17 stroke lead into Tuesday's finale which they continued to build on throughout the day.
It was no contest in the end as the Lions captured the conference title with a 57 stroke advantage over the second place finisher but the day wasn't totally without drama as it took extra holes to determine the tournament's top individual performer. Ultimately, Hazleton took home nearly all of the hardware given out at the Blue Course. Jeremy Harper (Mountain Top, Pa.) came out on top in the playoff to win his second straight individual title and Head Coach Jason Martonick received PSUAC Coach of the Year honors, the result of a total team effort all season long with the Lions running the table and winning their final five events of the year to capture the conference title.
After a solid effort in round one, Colin Hoy (Harleysville, Pa.) slipped back to the pack in the final round, however the junior still managed to post the number needed to lock up the team championship. Hoy was excellent off the tee but couldn't quite get the approach shots in close enough to challenge the leaders. Hoy knocked in a pair of birdies on the day to finish at 10 over par with an 82, locking up an All-Conference award in the process and finishing tied for sixth place in the PSUAC event.
Similarly, Will Long (Honesdale, Pa.) backed up slightly on Tuesday although he excelled on the tee shots all day. Long was just seven over par after 14 holes played but tightened up as the round concluded, going five over on his final four holes to finish with an 84. Nonetheless, Long's two-day total was good enough to land the sophomore on the PSUAC's All-Conference Team, an eighth-place finish with a combined total of 165 strokes played.
Joey Rebarchick (Hazle Township, Pa.) struggled earlier this season, but the swing began to click over the past several weeks and culminated in an outstanding performance at the two-day championships. Rebarchick followed his opening round of 78 with an equally impressive effort to finish in sole position for third place individually in the PSUAC and just one shot outside of a USCAA All-American Award. Rebarchick scrambled to near perfection on Tuesday, with clutch par saves on holes nine, 13 and 16 where he drained a lengthy par putt to keep his round on track. Rebarchick ended the day at just five over par for a 77 and two-day total of 11 over par.
The above trio's excellent scores were accompanied by quality rounds from David Simons (Freehold, Nj.) and Kolton Weaver (Bloomsburg, Pa.). Simons offered up back to back rounds of 86 while Weaver added rounds of 86 and 92 respectively. Both of their scores would have led to a Hazleton victory on Tuesday which speaks to the exceptional depth of the squad.
While Hazleton had a firm lock on the conference championship, the real theater came out of the Harper group. After shooting a 74 on Monday, Harper was just one shot back of Lehigh Valley's Ian Masenheimer going into the final round. Harper was steady on the front nine and despite a double bogie at the par four, 7th hole, the junior remained in contention with six pars on his first seven holes of the day. Harper stumbled at the 10th hole with another double bogie and bogied the par five 12th to sit at plus five with eight holes to play.
Not knowing where he stood in comparison with the leaders, Harper was determined to grind away on the remaining holes. Three straight pars settled the reigning PSUAC individual champion and a birdie at the par four 16th sparked a tremendous finish. Harper nearly eagled the par five 18th hole and tapped in for his second birdie, made par at the first tee and came to his final hole, the par four second at plus three for the day. A fine approach shot to the elevated green gave the junior a 10 foot look at birdie to close out the round and sure enough, Harper sank his third birdie in five holes to tie Masenheimer and force a playoff for the individual medalist honors.
Masenheimer had two opportunities to win the match at the par three 14th hole and again on the par four 15th, but failed to convert the mid-range opportunities. Harper buried a eight foot putt for par on the 14th to extend the match and a routine par at 15 brought gave the junior life heading into one of the most fruitful holes on the golf course. Both players launched drivers into the fairway at 16 but Harper was first to play and stuck a wedge just three feet from the cup. With the pressure applied, Masenheimer successfully found the green but the near 20 -foot putt failed to find the bottom of the cup. Harper tapped in for his second birdie of the day at the 16th and successfully defended his PSUAC individual crown to wrap up a banner day for Hazleton.
Harper's finish was a sweet ending to a dominant day for the Lions. With back to back rounds of 74, Harper landed himself in a tie for 5th place in the USCAA's National Championship, earning a first team All-American selection by the association to go along with his USCAA All-Academic Team award. Rebarchick, Hoy and Long finished just outside the All-American squad selections but joined Harper on the PSUAC All-Conference Team as Hazleton grabbed four of the 10 spots on the list to close out the year with an amazing accomplishment.