PUNXSUTAWNEY — When the boys' golf team tees off Friday morning at the Punxsutawney Country Club, the Punxsutawney Area High School's fall sports regular season will officially be underway.
Under the leadership of fourth-year coach Josh Conrad, the Chucks hope to improve from last year when no Punxsy player made it through the first day of districts.
Conrad said his players understand that Punxsy's program has a history of success, and he feels confident they will give their all to make this year a successful one.
"I think we'll be competitive," he said after Monday's practice, the first of the year. "It'll be tough to go all the way and win districts, but I am really happy with the way they played today. I'm hoping it'll be another good year for us. We were shocked that no one made it to the second day of districts last year. Punxsy's a golf town, and we'll do our best to live up to that."
Starting the regular season just four days after the team was allowed to begin practice seems like a disadvantage, but as a teacher Conrad understands the schedule change and doesn't feel as though it hurts the team's preparation.
"It doesn't affect the coach's preparation," he said. "I try to get as much practice in as possible, but I'm glad they changed the schedule. Golf's a sport that takes a long time to play, and it's good to get as many matches in as possible before school so we don't have to pull the kids out of school as often."
Punxsy will be led this year by its three top players: Ian Miller, Micky DeChurch and Brandon Mancuso. Miller and DeChurch are seniors this season, but Mancuso is just a sophomore.
Conrad said those three players are expected to play varsity all year, and the rest of the team will compete for the final three spots each match.
"It's pretty crowded in the middle fighting for those varsity spots," he said. "It's nice to have that competition to make the varsity team. It gives them something to shoot for. They all want to get to varsity, so every practice counts, and they really put some time into it and try to play well."
Punxsy has 14 players on the roster right now, and could possibly pick up two additional players, as the Country Club allows 16 players to hold junior memberships on the team. Each class, from fresh- man to senior, will be represented on this year's team.
Punxsy opens the season Friday against reigning district champion Redbank, and Conrad knows his players have their work cut out for them. Having home course advantage to open the season does help, though.
"Today, I was pretty excited about how well the boys played. The conditions were perfect, but they really took advantage of it. Ian hasn't played our course since last year, and he shot a 75. So, that's very promising."
Redbank isn't Punxsy's only concern this year. Conrad says Bradford may be the team to beat in the district this year.
"Bradford will probably be our toughest challenge this year," he said. "They have Josh Stauffer, and he's been playing Western Pennsylvania Golf Association events all summer. And on top of that, we have to play them at their own course for districts this year."
Ultimately, Conrad knows that, much like any other sport, his team's toughest competitor is itself.
"Golf is such a mental game," he said. "When they don't play well, it's really hard to handle. Even the top guys are affected by that. We lost at districts last year, because we fell apart at the very beginning. It's just such a fickle game, and the scorecard doesn't always show how good or bad you actually played."
Punxsy is hoping for low scores and success all season to help carry on the town's golf tradition.
"Since I started teaching in Punxsy, we've produced two professional golfers that I'm aware of, and Easton (Renwick) is playing Division I at Coastal Carolina right now," Conrad said. "We've been historically good, and we just hope that we can live up to that."