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Saturday, October 31, 2015

A pretty good week for the Radnor golf program

    It would have been a pretty nice week for Radnor golf had Andy Achenbach’s Raiders just had a second straight PIAA Class AAA individual title out of senior standout Brynn Walker.
   That’s Walker flanked by her parents, Mary Lou and Rocky, at Heritage Hills with her gold medal in a picture provided by the PIAA.
   But a couple of days later, Walker and the Raiders were back for more and they got what they came for, the PIAA Class AAA boys team championship. It was hard-earned, by a single shot over a game Peters Township squad. And they had to wait a day when the team tournament, originally scheduled for Wednesday, was postponed to Thursday with a forecast of heavy rain and wind for Wednesday.
   I was unable to make the necessary schedule maneuver to get back to Heritage Hills for the team competition, although the postponement did allow me to sneak over the East Course at Merion Golf Club Wednesday to watch some drenched Inter-Ac League golfers finish their league tournament rounds.
   But the Raiders, led by Walker’s 2-over 73, won the program’s third state title in the last decade. The boys won the 2006 title, the first year the PIAA staged a team competition. Three years ago, Radnor had enough girls to field a girls team and Walker, then a freshman, was the piece the Raiders needed to put them over the top for the 2012 state crown after a runnerup finish in 2011.
   These last two seasons, there just weren’t enough girls to field just a girls team, so Walker was added to the boys team. Even with Walker missing some time early in the season to compete in an AJGA event and then help Team Pennsylvania finish third in the U.S. Women’s  State Team Championship, the Raiders, getting great leadership at the top of the lineup from junior Michael Sydnes and contributions from some precocious youngsters, kept winning matches.
   Radnor blitzed its way to a perfect 11-0 run through the Central League, a very difficult thing to accomplish. The Raiders took on perennial Central contender Conestoga at St. Davids Golf Club and Walker fired an astonishing 5-under 30 as Radnor disposed of the Pioneers, 181-192.
   The question for Achenbach at the District One Tournament was which five players to put out for the team competition. The top four scores would count.
   That decision was complicated somewhat by the strong play of junior Gabby Kim in the District One individual competition. Kim had posted a strong 1-over 73 at Turtle Creek Golf Club in the Central League Tournament and then posted an even-par 70 on Day 1 of the district girls tournament at Gilbertsville Golf Club’s White and Red nines.
   Day 2 of the district tournament for the girls shifted to Turtle Creek with the team competition being held simultaneously. Walker and Sydnes, who had struggled to an opening-round 77 in the individual boys competition at the Turtle, were locks for the team lineup.
   Achenbach had to go with Kim, who was just playing too well to keep out the lineup. Then he rolled the dice on two of his freshmen, Jake Calamaro and David Colleran. Calamaro had missed the cut to return in the individual competition with an opening-round 79 and Colleran hadn’t even survived out of the Central League Tournament to compete individually at the Turtle.
   There were a lot of disappointed individuals that day at the Turtle. Walker fired a 1-under 71, but ended up in a tie for third in the individual competition. Kim, playing in the same group with Walker, had hung in there with her more decorated teammate before faltering a little at the end for a 76 that left her in sixth place.
   Nobody was more disappointed than Sydnes. He had rallied with an even-par 72, but it left him short of advancing to the East Regional by a shot.
   Calamaro, the younger brother of Radnor’s 2009 girls state champion Jackie Calamaro, fired a 2-over 74, which combined with the scores from Walker, Kim and Sydnes gave Radnor a six-shot margin of victory over Methacton and the program’s third boys district title to go with the two the girls won in 2011 and 2012. The individual disappointment was eased somewhat by District One team gold medals.
   Kim continued her strong play the following week by claiming the individual title at the East Regional with a 2-over 74 at Golden Oaks Golf Club, a shot better than Walker.
   While Walker set her sights squarely on a second straight individual title at Heritage Hills with an opening-round 74, Kim finally had a hiccup, posting an 85.
   But while Walker was winning that state title on Day 2 of the individual competition at Heritage Hills, Kim bounced back in a big way with a 2-over 74 that was two shots better than any other girl in Class AAA would post and it vaulted her to a ninth-place finish.
   If Achenbach had any doubts about including Kim on the roster for the team competition, that round certainly erased them.
   Ultimately, Achenbach settled on the same five he used at the district tournament.
   Walker, so good in the team environment, fired a 2-over 73 (we’ll use the boys par of 71 at Heritage Hills as opposed to the girls par of 72 in discussing the team tournament). Sydnes, so disappointed by his failure to advance individually out of the district tournament, added a 77.
    Calamaro, so clutch at the district tournament, was again with a 79 that included a brilliant birdie at the 18th,  a relatively easy par-5 for the girls, but a challenging par-4 for the boys. And Kim, while probably not thrilled with her score, shot an 83 that was just good enough to give Radnor a 312 total, one better than the 313 total put up by Peters Township.
   Radnor was able to throw out Colleran’s 85, but it’s hard to measure the value of the experience both Calamaro and Colleran gained competing in the district and state team tournaments as freshmen. Yes, Walker will be gone next year, but Sydnes, Kim, Calamaro and Colleran, who drove home from York County Thursday with gold medals, will be back.
   And how about Walker’s week and her brilliant scholastic career?
   She hadn’t been playing her best in the postseason after a spectacular 4-under 68 at Turtle Creek in the Central League Tournament. She was driving the ball long and straight, but the putter kept betraying her.
   Still, she arrived at the 16th tee on Day 2 of the individual competition at Heritage Hills with a two-shot lead. The par-4 is 330 yards on the card, probably more like 300 yards, but straight downhill with probably a 200-foot elevation drop. It is very tight with a creek and woods on the right and some gunk on the left where a snap hook might end up.
   But Walker has faith that she can hit the driver straight, so that’s what she pulled out of the bag. Her tee shot was majestic and on the perfect line. It ended up on the green and two putts later, she had a birdie and was her way to a three-shot victory.
   And then, two days later, she came up big in the team competition. Just like she did as a freshman when she helped Radnor win the girls state team championship. Just like she did when she teamed with her pal from Council Rock North, Madelein Herr, to reach the semifinals of the inaugural U.S. Women’s Four-Ball Championship last spring. Just like she did when she teamed with 2010 Chichester state champion Aurora Kan and Ellen Ceresko to help Pennsylvania take bronze at the U.S. State Team Championship in September. As I’ve mentioned before, North Carolina is getting a heck of a teammate when Walker shows up Chapel Hill next fall.
   So the final accounting for Walker’s career is two state individual championships, a fifth-place state medal, an East Regional title, a District One and a state girls championship and a District One and a state boys team championship.
   It is quite a winning tradition Radnor has built on the links in the last decade-plus and Walker is right at the top of the list of that championship legacy.

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