After starting at the back of the PIAA Golf Championship pack last year, Mike Englert has found himself in a much better position this year.

Rather than forcing himself to improve on a lackluster first-round performance, which he had last year on Heritage Hills Golf Resorts' par-71 course, the Blue Bomber senior has made it a bit easier for himself heading into his final 18-holes of varsity golf this morning.

Last year a first-round 89 put him in second lasat place after one round. This year, a first-round 69 has him tied for the lead of the 36-hole event along with West Allegheny's Garrett Browning.

“It feels great," Englert said. “Last year, I just blew up. I had my worst round of the year. That's 20 strokes better than a year ago. I guess I just forgot about that round last year. I didn't think about any of the bad holes I had.

“I just put together a great round of golf today. It feels great knowing that I could be Palmerton's first golf state champion."

His teammate, classmate and best friend Dan Costenbader shot a first-round 76 and is tied for 16th place with five others, including Notre Dame of East Stroudsburg's Matt Long, after the first 18 of 36 holes in the tournament format.

Englert shot one over par on the front nine and three under on the back nine, he made four birdies and two bogeys on the day. The bogeys came on back-to-back holes, Nos. 9 and 10.

“He just played a beautiful round front nine and back nine," Palmerton coach Tom Gilligan said. “He had no bogeys on the back nine at all and three birdies. He was only one over on the front nine on a course which is very difficult. He was just a machine all day."

It was just the kind of round he wanted for the last high school tournament of his outstanding career.

“I played really consistent," Englert said. “There were two short holes and I took advantage of them. I hit my approach shots to maybe about four feet or so and finished it off with ease."

For the defending two-time Colonial League champion Costenbader, he wasn't able to set out for what he wanted to accomplish against the best of the best in the state of Pennsylvania initially.

“Well, I didn't do exactly what I wanted to do," said Costenbader, who finished with a five-over-par score of 76. “I wanted to be in the top-five at least so I could have a shot at maybe winning the thing.

“But I didn't really play that bad. I just had a few mistakes here and there that cost me a low score."

Costenbader, who was tied for 22nd after the first round last year, shot as second round 71 in 2009 for sixth place overall.

“He's a stroke better than he was last year when he finished sixth," Gilligan said. “A good round tomorrow will get him a medal. There are some really fine golfers out here.

“They're (Englert and Costenbader) playing a really tough course and they're playing it really well. So, I expect to see them play real well tomorrow."