Believe it or not, the start of another college golf season is just a few short weeks away. To get you ready, Asher Wildman will break down the top 60 teams for both the men and women. Today, it’s No. 53 on the board with the New Mexico State men and Augusta State women.
NEW MEXICO STATE MEN
2010-11 final ranking: 53
Top returnees: Gaston De La Torre and Joon Lee
Projected starting 5: Gaston De La Torre (Sr.), Joon Lee (Sr.), Zach Fullerton (Sr.), Justin Shin (Jr.), and Collin Pratt (So.)
Key losses: Timothy Madigan
Key fall tournament: Herb Wimberly Intercollegiate
2010-11 recap: The Aggies continued their dominance of the WAC, winning a fourth consecutive conference championship. New Mexico State also picked up a win at the Rice Intercollegiate and finished in the top 5 at six other tournaments. With a win at the WAC Championship and strong season, the Aggies earned a trip to the NCAA Colorado Regional, where they finished 12th.
Player to watch: De La Torre will have big shoes to fill in replacing Madigan, who was No. 76 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings.
2011-12 preview: Though the Aggies return a veteran lineup from yet another WAC champion, they are a team in transition. Scott Lieberwirth, who had guided New Mexico State to a No. 53 ranking last season, resigned after eight seasons as head coach to take over UTEP’s men’s program.
Bottom line: New Mexico State’s dominance in the WAC could be coming to an end. The team needs a coach and a go-to player. A slide in the rankings could be inevitable.
AUGUSTA STATE WOMEN
2010-11 final ranking: 53
Coach: Kevin McPherson (fourth year)
Top returnees: Casey Kennedy, Natalie Wille
Top newcomers: Freshman Stephanie Bennett of Appling, Ga.
Projected starting 5: Casey Kennedy (So.), Natalie Wille (Jr.), Julia Stalbro (Jr.), Kirsty Rands (Sr.), Marit Bjerke (Jr.)
Key losses: None
Key fall tournament: Kentucky’s Bettie Lou Evans Invitational
2010-11 recap: The Lady Jaguars made it to the NCAA postseason for the second time in the 10-year history of the program. The Jaguars played in some top events and continued to gain national recognition. “I think we had our ups and downs throughout the year,” coach Kevin McPherson said. “We beat some good teams at Kinderlou, and nearly beat (2010 NCAA champion) Purdue at our home tournament in the spring.”
That roller-coaster ride was to be expected, though. Augusta State had a young lineup, starting a freshmen and three sophomores for much of the season. The Lady Jags failed to notch a victory, but they did post five top 5s and made it to the NCAA East Regional, where they finished 17th out of 24 teams.
Player to watch: Casey Kennedy. “I think she can be an All-American,” McPherson said of the sophomore. “If you see her, she hits it like a guy by hitting it high and long. She has a couple of wins under her belt, and has the consistency of making it happen. She’s young, but she is only going to get better.”
2011-12 preview: The Jaguars have all five starters back, and the most important piece to the young nucleus is sophomore Casey Kennedy, who finished last season at No. 149 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, a list her coach expects to climb. “She really is just now starting to fine-tune her game,” McPherson said. “She has already won, but at the same time is continuously getting better, which is scary.”
Augusta State was in the top 50 for parts of last year, but dropped somewhat when Natalie
Wille struggled in the spring with personal issues that distracted from her golf game. Entering the fall, Wille should be fully focused on helping the Lady Jags climb into the top 50 once again.
One reason for the Lady Jags’ improvement has been the opportunity they had to practice with the ASU men’s team – which won back-to-back NCAA titles in 2010 and ’11. That could be intimidating to some women’s squads, but McPherson said his team embraced the opportunity. “There were several times at practice where the girls learned from the top guys in college golf,” McPherson said. “They were able to see how they can hit certain shots on the golf course, and it motivated the girls to try to beat the champs at practice.”
Bottom line: With all five starters back, making it back to a regional shouldn’t be a problem for Augusta State. With a tougher schedule this year, McPherson believes his squad can be a top-30 team. Casey Kennedy is a star in the making, but the Lady Jags need more consistency from spots 3-5 in the lineup. A trip to the NCAA finals might be another year away until this young group fully develops.