LIMERICK — Penncrest senior Ethan Heller hasn't forgotten how he felt when he had his worst round of the fall a year ago at the worst possible time, the Central League Tournament.
He returned to Turtle Creek Golf Club Monday determined that there would not be a repeat performance. This time Heller contended for the individual title before settling for a share of second with teammate Griffin Colvin and Harriton's Will Daly with a 2-over 74 over the 6,375-yard, par-72 Turtle Creek layout. He and Colvin head a solid cast of Delco golfers who advanced out of the Central tourney to next week's District One Tournament Monday and Tuesday back at the Turtle.
On the girls side, Radnor sophomore Brynn Walker announced her intentions to be a major player in the postseason by firing a 2-under 70 from the 5,827-yard women's tees at the Turtle to capture individual Central honors.
"I was going along really well last year, I was confident, our last match before Centrals I shot a 31 at Waynesborough,' Heller said after firing a 2-under 34 on the front side at Turtle Creek before cooling off with a 40 on the back. "And I come up here, have one bad day — I hit two balls OB on five, I hit it OB on eight — and my season was over.
"That was my motivation coming up here today, it affected my attitude from the start this year. I came up here this year trying to win Centrals and to get to districts and do well.'
Heller had the driver going on the front nine at the Turtle as he reached the par-5 second in two and two-putted for birdie and was left with short chips into the par-4 fourth and seventh holes that he converted into birdies. He bogeyed the sixth to make the turn at 2-under. He struggled a little coming in with bogeys at 12, 13, 15 and 18, but he avoided the kind of big number that derailed his postseason a year ago.
"I got a little less aggressive because I started to realize I might have a chance to win this,' said Heller, a member at White Manor Country Club. "But overall, I'm happy.'
Heller played a lot of golf this summer, but the highlight was a trip to Scotland as a member of the International Junior Golf Tour's Team USA in an international competition against teams from Canada and host Scotland.
"It was a lot of fun, the golf experience of a lifetime,' Heller said. "You're waking up at St. Andrews, it was just a great atmosphere.'
And he got a jolt of confidence from an unexpected source, one his Team USA teammates.
"There was a guy there from Oregon, Conner Kumpula, we hit it off,' Heller said. "We practiced and played a lot. He's a freshman at Oregon State and he kept pumping me up and telling me I was as good a player as any of these other guys. It really gave me confidence.'
Colvin made it to districts a year ago as a sophomore and had a decent first round at Turtle Creek, but failed to make the cut for Day 2 of districts.
But he is familiar enough with Turtle Creek to know that his patient one-birdie, three-bogey round would get him where he wanted to go.
"I finished at two (a par-5) and made a 15-footer for my only birdie of the day,' said Colvin, a member at Concord Country Club. "I didn't hit any really bad shots. You can make birdies on the par-5s, you just have to stay out of trouble on the rest of the holes.'
Nobody knows the pressure of the District One Tournament like Marple Newtown senior Sam Soeth. He finished a shot back of Heller and Colvin in a group at 3-over 75 that included Garnet Valley's Jack Highfill and Conestoga's Robert Olseski and John Miller. Soeth, an All-Delco as a freshman, earned his fourth trip to the district tourney. This time, he wants to take the next step to the East regional.
"I'm determined to make it past districts this year,' Soeth said.
Highfill will be joined by three of his Garnet Valley teammates as John Concannon and Jake Hudock each had a 76 and Tim Reeves had a 77.
Radnor's Austin Dunlap had a 77 and a teammate Paul Yun, an East regional qualifier a year ago as a sophomore, was another shot back at 78. Strath Haven's Jeff Painter matched Dunlap's 77 and Springfield senior Brian Todaro, who like Penncrest's Heller missed a trip to districts last year, matched Yun's 78 to book a return trip to the Turtle Monday.
Two of Soeth's Marple Newtown teammates, Seamus Foley and Joey DelFranco, were two of the three survivors of a six-man playoff for the final three district berths.
In much the same way that Penncrest's Heller was energized by his trip to Scotland, Radnor's Walker, a state qualifier a year ago, feels the same way about representing Pennsylvania at the recent USGA Women's State Team Championship in Kettering, Ohio.
"It was the best golf experience of my life so far,' Walker said after overpowering Turtle Creek with three birdies and an eagle against three bogeys. "It was the first time juniors were allowed to play and I was nominated because I won the state Junior.'
Radnor is the reigning PIAA Class AAA team champion and the Raiders will take a strong squad to Gilbertsville Golf Club Monday for the first round of the District One Tournament. Also qualifying for districts from Radnor were Julia Curley, who was second behind Walker with a 78, Gabby Kim (80), Julianne Horgan (91), Radnor's senior captain, and Caitlin Bullock (98).
Springfield's Samantha Miller, whose game has taken big strides in her senior season, shared third place with Garnet Valley junior Annika Vandayar, each carding a 79. Vandayar will be making her third trip to the district tournament.
Haverford's Keenan Eichman finished sixth with an 82. Also earning a trip to districts were Springfield's Rada Ilieva (94) and Marple Newtown's Devon DelFranco (100).