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. 51 on the board with the SMU men and North Texas women.
2010-11 final ranking: 51
Coach: Josh Gregory (first year)
Top returnees: Max Buckley
Top newcomers: Freshmen Matt and Alex Ceravolo of West Palm Peach, Fla., freshman Sam Fidone (Lufkin, Texas)
Projected starting 5: Max Buckley (Sr.), Matt Schovee (Sr.), Harry Higgs (So.), Marc Sambol (Sr.), Aaron Stewart (Sr.)
Key losses: Kelly Kraft
Key fall tournament: Royal Oaks Intercollegiate
2010-11 recap: SMU didn’t have a bad season last year, but it wasn’t great either. The Mustangs missed advancing out of NCAA regionals by an agonizing two shots, but the rest of the Mustangs’ season was less than spectacular. In 10 regular-season events, the Mustangs had only three top-5 finishes, including a victory at the San Diego Intercollegiate. After the season, SMU decided to go in a new direction and not renew the contract of longtime head coach Jay Loar after 13 seasons.
Shortly after leading Augusta State to back-to-back NCAA titles, former SMU player Josh Gregory decided to take the job at his alma mater. With little time to prepare for the upcoming season, Gregory has tried to catch up quickly on his players. “These guys got better in the spring,” Gregory said. “They only missed a trip to nationals by two shots, so I know the talent and upside is there.”
Player to watch: Max Buckley. “He has a good future ahead of him,” Gregory said of the senior. “He could have good success since he has played well this summer. I expect him to step up and lead the way.”
2011-12 preview: There is a buzz in the air at SMU, and it all revolves around Gregory, who served as Mustangs captain in his senior year of 1996-97. Now, the new head coach is fulfilling a dream. “The chance to coach at my alma mater has always interested me,” Gregory said. “It’s the chance coaches get perhaps once in their careers, and I’m thrilled I was able to get the opportunity.”
What SMU expects Gregory to bring to practices and tournaments is a winning mindset. The past two years, Gregory’s team has been the last one standing, an impressive feat at a small school that is NCAA Division II in all sports but golf.
This fall, Gregory hopes to do what he did at Augusta State: Develop strong bonds with his new players.
“I have to get to know these kids,” he said. “I’m all about relationships, and we’ll have to have strong connections if we want to grow as a team and not be ranked outside the top 50 anymore.”
One advantage Gregory will have to ease his transition to SMU is a senior-laden lineup that returns four of five starters. Unfortunately, Kelly Kraft is the one who’s gone. Kraft, who graduated, ended last year at No. 32 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. The next highest Mustang? Matt Schovee at 370th. There is no clear No. 1 as the season begins, which could prevent SMU from making a big splash in Gregory’s first year.
Bottom line: This could be a tough season for SMU. Gregory knows how to win, but even a great coach needs top talent to earn victories. Expect SMU to show flashes of success at times, but building a roster full of talent may take a couple of seasons. Gregory will bring in a fresh new attitude and put his stamp on the program, but it will take time until he establishes his alma mater as a national contender.
NORTH TEXAS WOMEN
2010-11 final ranking: 51
Coach: Jeff Mitchell (third year)
Top returnees: Kelsey Kipp, Addison Long, Jacey Chun, Chaslyn Chrismer
Top newcomers: Freshman McKenzie Ralston of Temple, Texas
Projected starting 5: Kelsey Kipp (Sr.), Addison Long (Sr.), Jacey Chun (Sr.), Chaslyn Chrismer (Jr.), Katie Paxton (So.)
Key losses: Chandra Alexander
Key fall tournament: Texas A&M’s “Mo”morial Invitational
2010-11 recap: It was a historic year for the North Texas women’s program. The Mean Green earned its first postseason berth and also finished in the top 75 of the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings for the first time.
“I thought we were a really good team,” North Texas coach Jeff Mitchell said. “I felt we were better then what the ranking showed, but our strength of schedule held us back.”
North Texas won four tournaments, and didn’t finish a regular-season event outside the top 5. The Mean Green then finished 16th among 24 teams at the NCAA Central Regional.
Player to watch: Kelsey Kipp. “She transferred in from Missouri-Kansas City two years ago and averaged 78.5, but her stroke average this year was below 75 (71.9 in the fall),” Mitchell said. “I think she is one of those young ladies that is really focused on her goals and works really hard on her game. I’ll be surprised if she doesn’t have an outstanding year.”
2011-12 preview: Last season’s strong campaign has expectations running high for this season. The biggest difference for North Texas this year will be the strength of its schedule. Last season, the Mean Green had the 103rd-ranked schedule in the country; of its 124 head-to-head wins, 84 of them were to teams ranked outside the top 100. Against the top 50, the mark was only 6-19-1. This season, Mitchell has ramped up the schedule, with appearances at the “Mo”morial Invitational at Texas A&M, Dick McGuire Invitational at New Mexico, the Arizona Wildcat and the UNLV Rebel.
“I doubt we’ll have four wins and all top 5s, but at the same time these girls aren’t intimidated,” Mitchell said.
Kelsey Kipp is the team’s unquestioned No. 1, a player Mitchell says is always getting better. However, if North Texas wants to crack the top 50, it also will need strong play from the team’s other two seniors: Addison Long and Jacey Chun. “If we are going to be consistent and finish strong, then those two seniors have to be successful,” Mitchell said. “I think Jacey shows a few bright spots here and there but is capable of a lot more.”
Bottom line: With this year’s tougher schedule, expect a few struggles early until the Mean Green settles in and sees what it takes to defeat top teams. If it gets frustrated early against top-notch competition, the team could take a step backwards, but if the Mean Green can hold its own and improve as the year goes along, making a regional shouldn’t be a problem.