In the most surreal of years, the West Shamokin Wolves have put up tangible results on the golf course.
The Wolves continued their march to the state tournament on Wednesday a week after winning the District 6 championship, topping District 5 champion Conemaugh Township, 341-349, in a subregional matchup at Ebensburg Country Club that was necessitated when the PIAA reduced the fields for all postseason events in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eight weeks ago in late summer, no one was sure they would playing fall scholastic sports in Pennsylvania with the virus continuing to rage. Now, in the midst of fall, in the face of an ongoing threat, West Shamokin plays on.
By winning Wednesday, the Wolves qualified for the state team tournament on Oct. 26 at Heritage Hills in York. Prior to that, though, West Shamokin’s Eric Spencer and Jack McCullough play in the individual state tournament, which is held at the same site on Monday. Until last year, no West Shamokin athlete had played golf at the state level. Now all the Wolves are hitting the course at the highest level.
“I feel just pride for the kids,” coach Judd McCullough said. “This is a special accomplishment in a year that has been surreal because, honest to goodness, nobody knew what to expect. Sitting her in June, July and August, we didn’t even know if we’d be competing, and now here we are going to states. Sometimes I pinch myself to see if it’s real because for so much of the summer it was difficult for all of us — players, coaches, dads and moms — to sit and think, are we going to have it? I feel very blessed and fortunate that we were able to have a season, and on top of that, to be able to fulfill goals and dreams, that’s pretty special and something that they can feel pretty excited about for the rest of their lives.”
Spencer, a senior and the District 6 individual champion, again led West Shamokin, shooting a 74, which was six strokes clear of Conemaugh Township’s best player, Grace Thomas, a female who carded an 80. West Shamokin’s Jack McCullough, also a senior and the coach’s son, was next with an 82, which gained two more strokes for the Wolves. Sean McCullough, a sophomore and another of the coach’s sons, turned in a key round with an 84, which created a seven-stroke swing for the Wolves. Conemaugh Township made up seven strokes when comparing the fourth and final scores that counted toward the team results.
“The best I could put it is that we managed the stress and anxiety of being one step away from the state championships, which is something our school, and not many teams, are able to accomplish,” the coach said. “The kids were aware of trying not to let the team down … and that’s easier said then done when you’re young and excited and anxious. Maybe early on we were pressing a little until we got into rhythm.”
Jack McCullough, who last year became West Shamokin’s first state qualifier in golf, led his team to the Heritage Conference championship last month. Spencer has keyed the team since after the two traded medalist honors during the Wolves’ 10-1 dual-match season.
“Not many teams in the state have two anchor men,” Judd McCullough said. “When they’re both going it’s really special. Eric had it going today. He can shoot 74 in his sleep, and in this kind of situation, obviously it’s very special. I’m so proud of him.
“Jack struggled a lot, but I have to give it to him, and it shows his senior maturity that he was able to finish birdie-par-par. It was one of those days when he didn’t have his A game, but he was able to grind and make important shots down the stretch.
“Sean, I’ve been waiting for it as a dad and a coach and knew what he was capable of. He’s been in Eric’s and Jack’s shadow, but he was able to shine a little light on himself today and had a great performance in a key moment. He, along with Eric, really came through in the clutch today.”
Now the Wolves are set for trips to York in consecutive weeks. Spencer and the McCulloughs leave Saturday morning to play practice rounds at Heritage Hills in preparation for Monday’s individual tournament, which this year has been shortened from two 18-hole rounds over two days to one 18-hole round. The entire team makes the trip the following week for a six-team tournament.
“Eric and Jack, obviously individuals are important,” the coach said, “but they still have the team to fall back on, and that could insulate them a little bit knowing it won’t be their last day … and hopefully that will allow them to relax as much as they can and play the golf they’re capable of playing, if anyone can play relaxed golf.”