College golf is just a few short weeks away. To get you ready, Asher Wildman is breaking down the top 60 men’s and women’s teams. Today, it’s No. 32 on the board with the Kent State men and South Carolina women.
KENT STATE MEN
2010-11 final ranking: 32
Coach: Herb Page (34th year)
Top returnees: Mackenzie Hughes, junior Kevin Miller
Top newcomers: Freshman Charlie Phillips of Mount Vernon, Ohio, freshman Nick Scott of Union, Ohio, freshman Taylor Zoller of Charleston, S.C., sophomore Kyle Kmiecik (transfer from Mississippi), sophomore Jack Watson (Kansas State)
Projected starting 5: Mackenzie Hughes (Sr.), Kevin Miller (Jr.), Taylor Pendrith (So.), Corey Conners (So.), Nick Scott (Fr.)
Key losses: John Hahn, Brett Cairns
Key fall tournament: U.S. Collegiate Championship
2010-11 recap: Once again, Kent State had a successful run, not only winning a third consecutive MAC Championship, but making it to the NCAA Championship for the third time in four years. “We had a nice little run in a four-year period with John Hahn,” longtime coach Herb Page said. “This game is getting so deep, but we’re getting disappointed we (haven’t been) in the top 8 at nationals.”
In addition to the MAC Championship, the Golden Flashes won two other times last spring – at the Robert Kepler Intercollegiate and Towson Invitational. After advancing out of NCAA regionals, they tied for 19th at the NCAA finals.
Player to watch: Mackenzie Hughes. Said Page: “He won the ETSU tournament and the MAC Championship last year. He’ll be playing at the U.S. Amateur for the third year in a row, and he’ll help with the transition of losing a guy like John Hahn.”
2011-12 season preview: For the past four years, there was one constant for Kent State: John Hahn was in the lineup. After his graduation, the Golden Flashes are looking for someone to step in to the team’s No. 1 spot and keep the program going forward. “You don’t just replace a John Hahn,” Page said. “We have guys who can play, but it’s a team game.”
Two players Page will be relying on are sophomores Taylor Pendrith and Corey Conners. “Those two are the key to a successful year,”
Page said. “They both got experience last year, but at times also (were) inconsistent.” If they can take the next steps in their games, Page’s job will be much easier.
In addition, Page has one of his best-ever incoming recruiting classes arriving this fall. “On paper, to get this freshman class at Kent State is remarkable,” Page said. “These guys have strong resumes, have talent and can come in and play with the experienced guys on the other end.”
As if that weren’t enough, the Flashes also add a pair of sophomore transfers from other Division I programs – Kyle Kmiecik from Ole Miss and Jack Watson from Kansas State. It will be interesting to see how competitve Herb Page’s qualifiers will be this year at Kent State.
Bottom line: There are a lot of unknowns to start the year. Kent State has been a top-30 team the past few seasons, but with Hahn gone, they have no proven No. 1 atop the lineup. This roster has plenty of depth, however, and the potential to be great, but it also could prove to be just average if the newcomers don’t pan out. Page has gotten the job done for 30-plus years at Kent State, so there is little reason to believe he can’t find a winning formula. At the least, mark down another NCAA regionals appearance for the Golden Flashes.
SOUTH CAROLINA WOMEN
2010-11 final ranking: 32
Coach: Kalen Anderson Harris (Fourth year)
Top returnees: Katie Burnett, Suzie Lee
Top newcomers: Freshman Justine Dreher of France
Projected starting 5: Katie Burnett (Sr.), Suzie Lee (So.), Samantha Swinehart (So.), Justine Dreher (Fr.), Amanda Strang (Jr.)
Key losses: None
Key fall tournament: Pac-12/SEC Challenge
2010-11 recap: In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year for South Carolina, the Gamecocks played well with three freshman in the starting five for much of the year. “I thought they really came through in the postseason,” Harris said. “To gain that kind of experience and confidence in their first season will only help us for the next three years.”
Despite not winning a team title or having an individual winner, South Carolina played consistently throughout the season against the nation’s 12th-toughest schedule. Harris’ team also finished strong and surprised in the postseason. The Gamecocks finished fifth at the always-tough SEC Championship, sixth at the NCAA West Regional, then closed out their season with an 18th-place showing at the NCAA Championship.
Player to watch: Samantha Swinehart. Said Anderson: “She’s just a grinder that plays a lot of steady golf. She plays consistently and made the necessary swing changes last winter to make her game better. She’ll put together a real good season.”
2011-2012 preview: All five starters return from last season. Three of those players – all key to the Gamecocks’ postseason run –are now sophomores. “Our sophomores all gained valuable experience and confidence last year,” Harris said. “Everyone needs to continue to improve, though, if we want to be as good as we can be.”
Senior Katie Burnett and sophomore Suzie Lee were top-100 players a year ago and will be asked to lead the team this year. If one of those two can play their way into the top 50 of the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, the Gamecocks will be well on their way as a team as well.
The South Carolina newcomer is incoming freshman Justine Dreher. The French player has an impressive international amateur record and should be an instant contributor for the Gamecocks. “She is one of the best players I have ever recruited in my coaching career,” Harris said.
South Carolina was one of eight SEC teams that finished inside the top 35 last season, and will be looking to vault some of their conference rivals in the rankings this year.
Bottom line: Harris, a former Duke assistant, seems to have laid a foundation for great things to come in South Carolina’s future. Harris has depth, youth and all the pieces for the Gamecocks to be a top-25 team. Senior Katie Burnett will provide leadership, but what will determine how quickly – and how far – this team rises is the development of the younger players. If they continue to improve their games, then the Gamecocks will climb the rankings and return to the NCAA finals.