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Three seniors look to lead Eagles back to SoCon title, NCAA Regionals
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STATESBORO, Ga. - It has been a rare two-year drought for Georgia Southern from appearing in the NCAA Regionals. A perennial national-power, this could be the year Georgia Southern returns.
The Eagles return eight golfers and add two talented freshmen to what is shaping up to be a competitive mix. The 2008-09 season opens this weekend at the Maryland Intercollegiate. The 54-hole tournament will be played at the River Marsh Golf Club at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort in Cambridge, Maryland.
Georgia Southern and the other 17 teams will play 36 holes on Saturday (Sept. 6) and finish with 18 holes on Sunday. Head coach Larry Mays thinks this will be a great start to the season for his squad.
"It's a good field. You have got some real good teams... the University of North Carolina and a few other ACC teams. Some other teams from the Mid-Atlantic area will be there also. It's a good starter tournament on a fabulous resort sitting on the eastern shore of Maryland," said Mays. "I think it will be a better start for us. Hopefully we can begin the season on a good note by going up there, playing well and getting a good finish."
Mays thinks the pieces are in place to make a run at the NCAAs, now it's time for the team to go out and perform.
"We had a young team last year but we needed more experience. This year hopefully these young guys that gained experience last year can build on that and improve this year," said the ninth-year head coach. "Add into the mix some good young players and I think the foundation is built. Now we have to go out there and get the job done."
Leading the way will be three seniors: Drew Lethem (Camdenton, MO/Olathe East/Odesa CC), Jordan Johnstun (Evans/LaGrange) and Ryan LeFevre (Boca Raton, FL/Pope John Paul II). Lethem and Johnstun (along with assistant coach Carter Collins) were three of the 312 that qualified for the prestigious U.S. Amateur Championship last month. Johnstun got off to a good start but it was Lethem that advanced to the final 64 match play.
LeFevre actually finished second last year averaging 74.29 per round with Lethem close behind at 74.38 through 29 rounds.
"We have some guys with a lot of experience returning. Drew Lethem just got back from the U.S. Amateur. He advanced to match play but was eliminated by a Walker Cup team member. He came in from junior college where he was one of the top JUCO players in the country. We've had him for a year and a half and this being his final year I think will be a big year for him. He's playing with a lot of confidence right now. He played pretty much every tournament for us last year but wasn't really satisfied with how he played so we are expecting big things from him," said Mays. "Ryan (LeFevre) is another four-year guy who has played a good bit each year. I think he is looking to rubber stamp his career as well."
Johnstun is looking to rebound from a disappointing junior year. He averaged 74.11 his sophomore year but slipped to 77.5 last season. Last summer Johnstun shot an opening round 69 at the U.S. Amateur but just missed the match play cut by two strokes. Mays thinks Johnstun is ready to finish his career on a high note.
"Jordan has played a lot of golf for us. His freshman and sophomore year he was one of the better guys on the team, but had an off year in his mind and my mind last year. He's looking to come back and prove last year was just an anomaly and he's going to help lead this team."
Even with the key upperclassmen last year, it was a freshman who led the way. Logan Blondell (Lakeland, FL/Lakeland) opened his career with a runner-up team finish, and then would pace the Eagles in the next three tournaments, including a third place finish at the Mizuno Intercollegiate. Blondell would card a third place finish at the Schenkel E-Z-Go then close out his rookie year with a 12th place finish at the SoCon Championships to earn SoCon 'Freshman of the Year' honors. In 29 rounds, Blondell averaged a team-leading 73.31 strokes, nearly one stroke average better than LeFevre in second place.
"Our expectations for Logan are high. He was our best player last year, playing in all but one tournament. He was our most consistent player year-round, had two third place finishes last year including the Schenkel, and playing the way he did down the stretch," said Mays. "Logan went out and had a very successful summer and did what Logan does, and that's put up top finishes week in and week out. He had a bunch of 'Top 10' finishes this summer which only helps progress him. He is looking to take that next step and win college tournaments. I know that is his goal. He wants to be a big part of our program the next three years."
Blondell's 'Freshman of the Year' award marked the fifth time in the last eight years an Eagle captured the accolade. According to Mays, that streak could very well continue.
"We signed two highly touted freshmen in Sean Brannan (Duncansville, PA/Hollidaysburg Area) and Florian Sander (Austria) so I don't see why they can't battle each other for SoCon 'Freshman of the Year'. Both guys have a chance to make the SoCon All-Freshman Team."
Juniors Spencer Fulford (Rocky Mount, N.C./Southwest Edgecomb) (17 rounds/74.71) and Ryan Zabroske (Alpharetta/Milton) (20/75.00) along with sophomore Joe Monte (Chantilly, VA/Chantilly) (20/75.5) were close in the final individual results.
Junior Coleman Calhoun (Vidalia/Vidalia/Darton CC), redshirt-freshman Kyle Cothran (Soddy Daisy, TN/Soddy Daisy) and junior Matt Deal (Statesboro/Statesboro) will also challenge for a spot on the top five or six travel squad.
Following the Maryland tournament, the following week GS will play at a familiar place - the Country Club of South Carolina. Francis Marion will play host to the Raines Development, the same course that the Southern Conference Championship is played.
"One of the things that may have hurt us as a young team the last couple of years was we may have started out too tough. Playing a different terrain sometimes can be hard to get used to, the last couple of years we went up to Minnesota and played the hardest golf course we would play all year. I eliminated that from the schedule to give us more of an ease into the season," said Mays.
Georgia Southern makes it three straight weeks of competition, competing at the Shoal Creek Intercollegiate. Last year the Eagles captured their own tournament championship at the Mizuno Intercollegiate. They will have a chance to defend their title on October 6-7 at the Savannah Quarters CC. The fall season concludes at UNC Wilmington and the Landfall Tradition.
Many of the spring tournaments are at familiar places, starting with the Gator Invitational. North Florida will play host to the John Hayt Invitational on February 22-24. In March the Eagles will fly to Hawaii for the Kauai Collegiate Cup.
Georgia Southern will again play host to the always tough Schenkel E-Z-Go Invitational. Following a tune-up event at Augusta State, the Eagles will look to reclaim the Southern Conference Championship (April 19-21) back at the Country Club of South Carolina.
"This spring we play our traditional schedule - the (Florida) Gator (Invitational), a good tournament with the John Hayt Invitational down in North Florida, the Schenkel and Augusta. All four are really good tournaments and we throw a fun trip to Hawaii that is really good for our recruiting purposes to show we are not afraid to travel."
In order to make that return trip to the NCAA Regionals, GS and the rest of Division I programs will have to adjust to the .500 winning percentage rule.
"The .500 rule is that you have to have a .500 winning percentage in order to advance to the NCAA. In the old system you wanted to play the hardest courses and the best competition you can because you had only eight spots in your district to get into regionals, then maybe 1-4 an at-large," said Mays. "Now you have 64-66 spots and 20-some bids by winning your conference, so it's more important to play a solid schedule and maybe get some confidence and wins on the board. I think we have a nice mix of a schedule this year, competing in some tournaments we can build some confidence and be in the mix to win.
"We've never had that before because golf is different from other sports in that you are not playing one team head-to-head, you are playing in a field of 12, 15 or 18 teams. The Schenkel has had 12 of the top 25 teams in the country in the field. If you finish 12th and you didn't lose to anyone who wasn't ranked in the 'Top 25' you could actually move up in the rankings. Now with the .500 rule you could finish 13th or 18th in the Schenkel and move up in the rankings but you lost ground on the .500 rule. So you have schedule more careful," said Mays. "You could play against the year is ninth and you beat everyone you are supposed to but lost to the top teams and you might be ranked 25th in the country. Now you can do that be ranked 25th and finish with 79 wins to 80 losses and you're sitting at home."

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