Ten-game turnarounds aren't something that occur often.
In order for a team to improve its record by ten games from one season to the next - especially when it only plays 14 games - it need a lot of things to go its way. Its players have to play better. Its coaches have to coach better. A little good luck never hurt either.
The Panther Valley golf program seemed to put all of those things together in 2009, as it improved its Schuylkill League record from 0-12 in 2008 to 10-2. Not only that, but the Panthers qualified for the league playoffs for the first time in years.
"The kids stepped up big time," said head coach Larry Marek. "The time they put in and their commitment to the game really paid off.
"The kids knew all along that they had the skill to compete, but I don't know if they believed to that extent. I think when we go to 6-1 they really became confident and had a positive attitude."
Whether it will be prove to be a motive or a burden, Panther Valley is now faced with the task of repeating last season's success. Luckily for the Panthers, they will have all but one player back from last year's team.
"I definitely didn't expect to have the season we had last year," admitted Marek. "However, because of that, my expectations are might higher this year."
Seniors Mike Hadesty, Kory Lopata, Ron Knipper, Scott Nevenglosky and Matt Tucker all figure to be in the scoring mix every single match. According to Marek, all five can shoot anywhere in the high-70s to low-80s. Add in freshman sensation Luke Stano (low-80s) and Panther Valley has a very formidable lineup.
Rounding out the squad will be seniors John-Paul Heckman, Jeremy Thomas and Paul Suzadil, along with sophomore John Taras and freshman Pat Iezzoni.
Hadesty, Lopata and Tucker will lead the team. All three scored for the Panthers in last year's league championships.
How was Panther Valley able to turn it around so quick? It was something Marek has preached since day one: course management.
"I am a big proponent of course management," said Marek. "I always tell the kids to play the course, not their opponent. They should always try and make the right play regardless of what their opponent is doing.
"I had one of my players come up to me last year and tell me, 'You know coach, for a while I thought you were full of crap. Now I see what you have been talking about'. That made me smile a little bit."
Thanks to the Schuylkill League re-aligning its golf divisions, Panther Valley will now play schools more its size. Jim Thorpe, North Schuylkill and Tamaqua will move to the Eastern Division, while Minersville, Nativity, Schuylkill Haven and Williams Valley will join Panther Valley, Mahanoy Area, Marian and Weatherly in the Western Division.
The teams leaving Panther Valley's division had a winning percentage of 47 percent last year. The teams joining the division: 25 percent. That, coupled with the fact that Marian has now lost three of its top golfers from last year's 12-0 team, gives the Panthers an excellent shot at bettering themselves in 2010.
"I think we can do better," Marek said. "We have 4-5 kids that can put together some very good rounds. The kids think they can do better as well. They aren't looking for fourth place this year. They are looking beyond that.
"I think we can compete against everybody, even Blue Mountain (12-time champ) and Pottsville (12-2). The door is open for us to take the division this year and perhaps go undefeated. It is definitely possible."
The Schuylkill League will also be holding dual and tri-meets this season instead of just one team versus another. Because of that, Panther Valley will know pretty soon how good it is going to be. The Panthers will have played against a total of nine teams by next Friday.
"The kids are eager to get on the course," said Marek. "Success can breed a lot of interest in a program, so we hope to keep everything moving in the right direction."