HAZLETON, Pa. — Applause erupted from the crowd packing the bleachers of the Dr. Thomas M. Caccese Gymnasium during a recent Penn State Hazleton men’s basketball game, but it had nothing to do with flashy handles, pinpoint passes or timely baskets. In fact, it didn’t have anything to do with basketball at all.
Instead, fans showed their appreciation and pride for the Penn State Hazleton men’s golf team as the group was honored during halftime for winning this year’s Penn State University Athletics Conference (PSUAC) golf championship, its third straight conference title.
One by one, teammates Dylan Antolick, Grant Culbert, Jeremy Harper, Colin Hoy, Bobby Kaufman, Brent Pesotine and Joey Rebarchick made their way onto the court, championship medals around their necks, to cheers from fans. Luke Randall, a first-year student-athlete from East Stroudsburg, was absent.
“We had a 10-year PSUAC championship drought campus-wide, despite coming close on a number of occasions in other sports,” said Head Golf Coach and Assistant Director of Athletics Ryan Aten. “To capture three in a row is special and brings a certain level of prestige and pride to the program and the campus.”
Also celebrated were the individual accolades of Antolick, Hoy, Harper and Rebarchick, who earned All-Conference selections and were named to the All-American team, as well as Antolick’s performance at the conference championship in October, a feat that not only earned him Penn State Hazleton’s first United States Collegiate Athletics Association (USCAA) Individual Medalist national championship, but also propelled the golf team to its latest title that week at the Penn State Blue Course in State College.
"There was just something special about this year,” said Antolick, a second-year player from Drums majoring in aerospace engineering. “We were all closer at the beginning of the year, and me entering my second year on the team after spending my first year getting used to the college experience, I know there was just a lot more comfort.”
Antolick looked especially comfortable on the Blue Course during the two-day PSUAC championship in October. He shot a career-best 74 on day one of the tournament and an even-par 72 on the second day, becoming just the second PSUAC individual to win the USCAA medalist honors.
Not far behind, Rebarchick finished third overall after firing back-to-back scores of 76.
He attributed the team’s performance to preparation — and keeping things lighthearted.
“Golf is an individual sport, but as far as practice goes, we make fun games to keep ourselves sharp but also keep it light. Then, when the matches come, we can turn on that concentration and flip that switch,” said the third-year psychology major from Hazleton.
Adding to the winning effort were strong performances from Hoy and Harper, who finished tied for fourth and sixth overall, respectively.
Aten, however, said it was a total team effort that laid the groundwork for the championship. The group shot 306 on day one and 300 on day two to top Penn State Mont Alto for the title.
“Their focus and commitment to one another throughout the tournament was nearly unmatched,” Aten said, noting that the team had been finding its groove and building momentum in the weeks leading up to the event. “The entire team bought into the concept that every shot counts in championship play.”
Aten even got in on the accolades himself this season, earning PSUAC Coach of the Year honors.
However, more than just awards and recognition, what really stood out to Aten this season was the team’s tight bond, he said.
“We have had, and continue to have, a group of student-athletes who are willing to go the extra mile for one another to help each other be successful,” Aten said. “They love spending time with one another on and off the golf course, and in a good way, they are super competitive within the group, which pushes them to try to top one another at nearly every turn.”
Much of that bond comes from the way the team banded together in the wake of an unexpected tragedy: the passing of head coach Jason “Jay” Martonick in July 2022, just before the start of the season. Martonick had coached the team since the golf program started in 2006, leading to the team to championships in 2011 and 2021, numerous top five finishes and several PSUAC Coach of the Year awards. Most of all, he was beloved by his student-athletes.
“Jay was more than just a coach,” Rebarchick said. “He wasn’t a superior or someone to look up at. He was one of us.”
The group dedicated their 2022 championship to him. To this day, Rebarchick said Martonick is on his mind often, particularly when he and the team reflect on their recent success.
Aten acknowledged that while the team’s recent winning ways are undoubtedly special, he is most proud to see his student-athletes succeed outside of athletics.
“I think that the most important thing is that your players have a great experience,” he said. “I want our players to leave school feeling connected to their teammates, the athletics staff and the campus, having great memories from their time here and a degree that will help them be successful in life.”
Harper and Hoy will have a chance to do just that this month, when the pair of fifth-year seniors graduate from Penn State Hazleton. Overall, half of the current roster is due to return next season, primed for another strong season and, perhaps, another PSUAC championship to add to its legacy.
Regardless, Aten is confident the team will have the right mindset to achieve anything.
“Whether it’s a player making big improvements from round to round or year to year, or seeing the players win a team or individual medal, it’s always rewarding to see their hard work pay off,” he said.