Newton Falls golf coach Scott Kernan isn't selling his team short, he's just being honest.
"Girard has a tremendous team," Kernan said when asked who in the All-American Conference National Division would compete for the title. "I'm not going to lie to you, they should win the league."
A year ago, the Tigers went 13-2 with both losses coming to the Indians. Each of those matches were fairly close. On Sept. 11, 2012 Girard beat Newton Falls, 157-166, to clinch the AAC National title.
A few weeks earlier, the Indians nipped the Tigers by just one stroke - a result that had to be determined by the fifth scorecard. This year, these two teams play on Sept. 3 at Riverview and Sept. 11 at the Mahoning Country Club.
"You never know what's going to happen," Kernan said. "We're not going to lay down and die. We're going to keep them honest."
Girard returns its top standouts - Evan, Jim and Mark Standohar - while the Tigers lost their No. 1. to graduation, Logan Beechy, who was a state-qualifier. He shot a two-day total of 174 and finished tied for 34th at the Division II tournament at Ohio State's Scarlet Course. Beechy was the top qualifier coming out of the district tournament at Windmill Lakes.
"Losing Logan is a huge loss," Kernan said. "A guy with his caliber is special to have on your team and losing that takes a hit."
Jacob Harrah is now the team's biggest hit.
"He's really stepped up and is probably playing better than Beachy, overall, at this point than he was last year," Kernan said.
Harrah, a junior, was an all-league selection a year ago and Sean Croell, also a junior, has been making great strides during the Tigers' undefeated season. He won a junior tournament earlier this summer at Candywood. They each average less than 40 for nine holes and they also work at Riverview, where Haylee Harford, the top high school girls player in the area, is a regular.
"They all actually have a really nice friendship," Kernan said. "The guys got over the original awkwardness. They know she's a great golfer and they're just happy to compete against one of the best. Golf is hard enough no matter who you're playing and, really, you're just playing yourself."
On Sept. 12, Newton Falls plays LaBrae.
Kernan is entering his fifth year of coaching the boys golf team. At Newton Falls, he's in his 22nd year of teaching and he's also a guidance counselor. For the past two years, he's added athletic director to his bundle.
"It's given me a greater respect for what they do," he said. "Guys like Mike DeToro (Lakeview), Joe Cappuzzello (Girard), Tim Cope (Champion), Todd Rowe (LaBrae) and so many other guys - I have a great respect for what they've done over the years."
Now, Kernan has a goal for his tenure.
"Well, golf can usually be left for lapses in conversations and concerns," he said. "I'd like to try to get the voices of other coaches heard, too."
For now, the concern is this Tigers' season, one that will have its challenges, but one that also has hope. Still, Girard is looming.
"I don't think they try to mimic them or they're in awe of them," Kernan said. "They respect them. Golf is such an individual sport. You only play within yourself; your swing is your swing.
"And there's no awestruck type of attitude."