HoVal golfers earn share of Valley title


By: Mike Molaro
   It was quite a season for the Hopewell Valley Central High School golf squad.
   In addition to an outstanding performance in the NJSIAA Group III Tournament, the Bulldogs overcame long shot odds to assure themselves of at least a tie for the Colonial Valley Conference Valley Division championship.
   HoVal (18-3) looked like it was dead in the water after losing three straight matches to fall to 5-3. But these gritty Bulldogs won their final 13 matches to tie West Windsor-Plainsboro North for the Valley Division title.
   The Knights still have two matches remaining and if they lose one, HoVal claims the crown outright.
   "I’m real happy with where we are and what we’ve done," veteran Bulldog head coach Skip Johnson said. "We had to beat North to give ourselves a chance and we did with (junior) Andrew Varhley’s low card of 39 breaking the tie. We had a long road to come back to get to this point."
   HoVal closed its season by defeating McCorristin, 189-254, at the par-34 Springfield Golf Center in Mount Holly on May 22 and Princeton, 198-212, at the par-35 Springdale County Club in Princeton Township the next afternoon.
   Against the Iron Mikes, junior Joe Tirpak carded a match low 36, sophomore Matt Betz shot a 37, sophomore Greg Carver and junior Matt Castagna each fired a 38, and senior Zack Swol shot a 40.
   "This was a pretty easy course," added Johnson. "We play on a par-36, so this was 12 strokes advantage for our six guys. It was a good opportunity to play guys who didn’t get a lot of opportunities to get in."
   Carver and Varhley each shot a match low 37 to lead HoVal past the Little Tigers. Senior Jason Pall and junior Brandon Rust each fired a 40 and Castagna shot a 44.
   "This was our best round of the year," Johnson said. "We came in real strong. We had four good scored coming in right away. Greg (Carver) had a great end of the season. He shot a 39, 37, 38, and 37 in his final four matches. He also led the team in scoring with a 40.1 average and earned high honors."
   The Bulldogs were pretty much out of the title picture when they dropped to 5-3, but they regrouped and raised their game to another level.
   "This team could’ve folded real fast," added Johnson. "They showed me something and I think they showed what types of competitors they are. Our three losses were to Notre Dame, which won the Colonial Division; Lawrence, which took Notre Dame down to the wire; and WW-P North, which shot a school record against us.
   "The key to our season was the match against WW-P South the day after we lost to WW-P North. We shot a 200 against South and won that match. If we lost, it probably would’ve been the end of our title chances. We won and we gained confidence as the season went on. That match was the key for us."
   Losing Pall and first-year player Swol to graduation, HoVal returns a solid nucleus of juniors Varhley, Rust, Castagna, Tirpak, Brian Orland, and Greg Morten, and sophomores Betz and Carver.
   "Jason (Pall) was a four-year player for me," Johnson said. "Zack (Swol) didn’t make the team last year but he played in four matches this season and made some nice contributions."
   Winning the Valley Division championship would be the ultimate finish to HoVal’s improbable season. Earning a share of the crown is still a fantastic accomplishment for a team given up for dead early in the year.
   Either way, these Bulldogs can look back proudly on their 2002 season.