Fall Sports Preview: Golf likes chances at opening tournaments

When the GW golf team tees off this weekend at the Navy Fall Intercollegiate in Annapolis, Md., the team will be doing more than getting reacquainted with collegiate competition. The players will be working for post season play.

With three of their top players returning, including graduate student Thomas Blankvoort, who won last year’s GW Invitational, the Colonials are setting their sights on qualifying for the NCAA Eastern Regional- something no GW team has done in over 50 years. It will take a top finish at these early tournaments to set the team on path for post-season play.

Unlike most collegiate sports, there are two ways to qualify for NCAA Tournament play. GW must either win the Atlantic 10- an unlikely possibility given that Xavier has three returning players from their A-10 championship team last year- or by finishing in the top four of 52 spots in District Two.

The country is divided into nine districts for NCAA golf. Teams in those districts compete for standing in three national regions. GW will compete for a spot in the NCAA Eastern Regional. The top 10 teams from the regions go on to compete in the NCAA Championships. The winner is crowned national champion.

If the Colonials are to earn an at-large bid their best chances are by placing in the top four of District Two. Last season, GW finished 15th of 52 teams in District Two and finished fifth in the A-10. Xavier is favored to win the conference again this year.

While the Musketeers lost Tim Donovan, the top conference player, and Jeff Marr, who finished fourth in the A-10, three members of the championship team will return. Among all the returning members, Rookie of the Year Matt Makinson is the biggest threat.

Rhode Island, another A-10 championship contender, remains a threat to GW. Like Xavier the team also have three players returning. Mike Carbone, the third best golfer in the conference, returns for another season, joined by David Spitz and Thomas Giles, who finished in the A-10’s top 10.

Scott Allen, who is entering his eighth year as GW head coach, said the six fall tournaments are important because they could set the team on the right course for an at large berth at the end of the season.

“Both tournaments will probably have the top 18 to 21 teams in our region,” Allen said. “It will be a good chance right away to show whether we belong in the top ten or top five.”

Allen said a good start in the fall and a finish in the top ten in the district will put the Colonials in a good position to challenge for a top four or five spot in the spring.

Many of GW’s returning players had encouraging summers, including Blankvoort, who competed and played well at top amateur events.

Allen expects Blankvoort to be among the top three or four players in District Two this season.

“Thomas is rarely going to shoot above 75, and he is probably going to be under par as often as he is over par,” Allen said.

Allen considers Blankvoort to be the leader on the team because of his strong play during tournaments and his dedication to improving.

“Thomas is the hardest working player I have had as far as practicing on his own time and working hard on his game,” Allen said. “When we are practicing, he is encouraging the other guys to work as hard as he does.”

Last April, Blankvoort won the GW Invitational shooting an even-par 144 (72-72) at the Swan Point Yacht and Country Club. He finished in the top ten at tournaments six last year.

Blankvoort speculated that with consistent play he could be selected to the All-American Team.

“I think that if I average a 72 and win three or four tournaments individually, I could make the team,” Blankvoort said. He was named an All-American Scholar last year by the Golf Coaches Association of America.

The Colonials can expect strong performances from junior Brad Friedlander and senior Bryan Derdenger. Friedlander, who is among the nation’s most accurate drivers off the tee, came short of qualifying for the U.S. National Amateur Tournament over the summer. Bryan Derdenger finished third on the team last year behind Blankvoort and graduate Ryan Day.

Blankvoort said Derdenger, Friedlander and he form a solid nucleus and have enough experience to help the newcomers early on.

The Colonials will be without the services of senior Tim Derdenger, who is sidelined with a rotator cuff injury and might miss the entire season.

Derdenger’s injury should offer more playing time to the four newcomers to the squad: Junior Michael Ball, sophomore Charles Taylor, and freshmen Lee Hodder and Ryan Mello should see some chances this year.

“I am anxious to see how they will play,” Allen said. “They all have terrific numbers and terrific scores. I think any one of them could step up, but I am not sure which one yet.”

Ball, a transfer from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, has enough experience to play immediately, Allen said. Ball won his conference tournament as a freshman and has competed in two NCAA Regionals the past two seasons.

Blankvoort sees the incoming group as a spark plug for the team.

“They are talented, and I think they can contribute right away. They also give us needed depth,” he said.

Depth is a welcomed addition to GW’s lineup this season given last year’s sudden departure of Bobby Barnett and senior Mike Goldman. Citing team differences and time commitment issues, they walked off the golf team before spring play. Before that, the team lost J.B. McCuskey, a fall walk-on, who traded in golf for an internship on Capitol Hill.

“They all left on good terms,” Allen said. “But none of them were playing a lot in the starting lineup. I think it worked out to be a good decision for all of them.”

Neither McCuskey nor Barnett returned to the team this season. Goldman graduated.

The team continues to practice and prepare for the second tournament of the season, the James Madison Invitational September 22 and 23. At the conclusion of the tournament, the Colonials will have a good idea where they stand for the rest of the season.

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