High School Golf: Frontier still in winning frame of mind
Ortiz, Stoklosa look to get to earn state berth; sophomore Balbierz playing among the boys
While this Frontier team may not reach the level of success of the two season’s previous, the Falcons feature two potential state qualifiers — one looking for his second trip to that competition, and a young female golfer making her way up the ranks playing among the boys.
A 5-3 mark isn’t anything to shake a stick at, but the benchmark at Frontier has been set high due mostly to the play of the 2010 and 2011 teams. Those Falcons’ squads combined to finish 20-0 and captured a pair of ECIC Large School South Division titles.
Still, seniors Nick Ortiz and John Stoklosa have helped hold together the team, ranked 11th and 16th among ECIC golfers, and sophomore Molly Balbierz is an example of the bright future ahead as she competes from the same tees as the boys.
Like Balbierz, most of this year’s starting lineup consists of players moving up into much larger roles. Many of them are learning to play at this level and it has shown at times, according to Frontier head coach Craig Zienski.
“We’re definitely a young team, losing six or seven seniors from last year, so there are only three or four of us that had played in matches before,” said Ortiz, who earns an automatic bid to the sectional tournament after qualifying for states as a junior last season. “Even though our record is not that bad; it may be considered bad compared to our 20-0 record the past two seasons, but with the team we’re working with, there’s some young golfers that are going to be really good in the future.”
Zienski is hoping Stoklosa can become the second different player in as many years to earn a state berth. Last season, as a junior, Stoklosa came up just short of the feat at the Section VI Championships.
“Hopefully, Jon’s next step is to make that state meet,” Zienski said. “Usually, I’m telling freshmen and sophomores to just take it a step at a time — first make ECICs then get to sectionals...I usually don’t expect a sophomore or even a junior to make states because it’s usually a big pressure situation they haven’t been in before.”
Also helping the cause this year have been sophomore Griffin Fitzpatrick, along with senior Connor Kacmarski. Frontier lost twice to Lancaster and once to Orchard Park. The Falcons still have one match remaining with the Quakers, its crosstown nemesis, on Oct. 3 at Brierwood.
Stoklosa said he hopes the team can get a little revenge in that match. Although it’s a new role for Frontier, Ortiz noted that he relishes in possibly playing the spoiler, and hopes everyone is on board with finishing strong even though the division title is no longer on the line.
“Coming into the season, I didn’t know what to expect,” Zienski said. “I knew we’d be solid at the top with John and Nick and then Griffin and Molly turned into solid players. We started out the year 3-0 and I thought maybe they’d perform better than I initially thought. But then we lost a few matches by a few strokes. If we played the way we did in the first three, I think we would have won those.”
Balbierz may be one the biggest surprises, not so much because of the way she’s played but how she’s done it considering who she’s had to play against. Few public schools offer a golf team for girls, so Balbierz, a seasoned club player, where she competes among other females, joined Frontier’s boys team last season.
She was an alternate as a freshman on a last year’s senior-heavy team. She didn’t qualify for ECICs, but is slated to play in that competition this season after being a regular in the 2012 Frontier lineup. The ECIC Championships are Tuesday, Oct. 9.
“It’s definitely different from playing in the summer with all of my friends, but they’re great and have accepted me and I’m having a blast with them,” said Balbierz, who plays on the Western New York PGA Tour in the summer.
Ortiz said Balbierz is just “one of the guys,” in a good way, he joked, along with being a very down to earth person and player, who gets along with everyone. He noted teammates genuinely enjoy having her around.
“I think having her around makes it more competitive, too,” Stoklosa added. “She kind of keeps everyone on their toes.”
She’s certainly held her own. Ziesnki said if Balbierz keeps working on her short game, she could turn into a force, even playing among the male players.
“She’s great with the boys and they definitely respect her because she beats half of them,” Ziesnki said with a chuckle. “She’s earned her spot. She hasn’t been given anything and she doesn’t expect to be. She’s a good player and she’s young. Sometimes I forget she’s a 10th grader when she’s out there playing every match and competing. She’s got that kind of talent.”
Like so many of the players on this team, Balbierz is also learning a great deal from senior leaders such as Stoklosa and Ortiz.
“I love how you guys are able to stay so consistent,” Balbierz said in their direction. “I need to learn how to do that and just keep improving my game as much as I can to help keep the team solid.”
Along with making a run of his own in the postseason, Stoklosa hopes he has been a help to his coach by acting as a leader for the youngsters.
“I want to make sure I leave Frontier golf better than when I came into it,” Stoklosa said. “Especially for a growing team, still having a winning record is great. It still makes it fun for the developing kids.”
Also locally, St. Francis competes in the All-Catholics championships on Monday, Oct. 8.