At the Dr. Edwin B. Cottrell Invitational over the weekend in West Chester, the Marauders’ male and female golfers only had one direction in mind.
North—if they could see up that far, anyway.
In the wind and the rain, the Marauders weathered yet another storm through Sunday and Monday for another successful outing this 2013-14 season. On the women’s side, sophomore Jaimie Wharton continued her solid year with her fifth top-10 finish of the season by placing eighth, thanks to a 13-over-par first round. On the men’s side, up-and-comers Robby Rowe and Conor Gilbert landed in sixth and eighth after the Millersville golfers took their final step off the soggy, turned-to-mush greens of Penn Oaks Golf Club.
“I’m kinda surprised with how high we were,” Millersville head coach Scott Vandegrift said, alluding to the unfavorable conditions that have hindered his golfers throughout the season. “Unfortunately, all of the golf courses this spring, because of this severe weather, are so beat up and hurt. It’s unbelievable.”
Wharton, for example, after being a mere three shots off of the lead after Sunday, dropped seven shots below her first round score when Monday was all said and done. She wasn’t alone, however, as only five of the final top 20 notched a better score on the second day of competition.
Despite Wharton’s strong performance, the women’s team fell to second-to-last with a stroke total of 700, only beating out East Stroudsberg. With senior leader Amber Rohrer out due to student teaching, combined with the soggy terrain, Vandegrift acknowledged that the players did all they could—and more.
“That hurt us because [Rohrer] probably would’ve shot somewhere between 85 and 90 in both rounds;” nevertheless, Vandegrift continued: “I’m really proud with how the women competed … It was a tough golf course in really tough shape.”
But that certainly isn’t deemed an excuse by these ladies.
“They don’t complain about anything. They just want to play,” Vandegrift said about his female players’ grit through the unrelenting elements that winter—and now spring—has gushed from its skies. “The women’s team is making a lot of progress.”
The Lady Marauders saw four other young golfers showcase their budding talent: sophomores Cara Geiger, who placed 42nd, Allison Ray, who placed 43rd, and Kendal Olear, who placed 32nd; along with freshman Danielle Freed, whose 180 two-day total was also something to be proud of.
“They’re the two lowest scores she’s ever got, so she’s been improving,” Vandegrift said. “I’m really proud with how the women competed.”
Meanwhile, the uber-talented men’s PSAC Champion team tied for the lowest stroke-count in the second round, albeit their 627 in-total buried them towards the middle of the pack in sixth place. Beyond Rowe and Gilbert’s top-notch performances, senior Jon Heile tied for 21s as juniors Matt Lutz and Kevin Davis placed 48th and 49th.
It’s not the talent Vandegrift is worried about, however. It’s the consistency.
“We have to get this sorted out,” Vandegrift said, while foreshadowing to the NCAA Atlantic/East Super Regional starting on May 5, which they were granted access by winning the PSAC Championship earlier in the fall. “We’re under a month now that we need to be on top of our game,” Vandegrift continued. “Our goal has been, from the start, to not only get a birth in the Regional, but the number one thing is to qualify for the national tournament.”
Last year, the team missed their chance at the NCAA Division II Championships by the skin of their teeth—four strokes. This year, Vandegrift reminds his players to use that as fuel to their fire to get to that ultimate goal of a national title.
Unfortunately, the coach realizes that, as these kids get older, they have the propensity to rely on another source for fuel.
“They’re all 21 or older. That creates problems sometimes,” Vandegrift said about his players being “legally” able to drink alcohol now. “The guys sorta laugh about it, but it’s true,” he said.
With his seniors, suddenly, Vandegrift has noticed a shift of concentration from golf to other life events, like looking for a job—or, heck, that lucky lady.
“The girlfriends now become pretty important to ‘em,” he added.
As the season withers, these veterans haven’t picked the ideal time to somewhat shift their attention from golf clubs to, say, night clubs.
“Their focus is not as keen as they go day-to-day,” Vandegrift said, emphasizing the group’s lack of “tenacity at practice” over the year.
With a month before the most important tournament of the season, Vandegrift, however, still is optimistic that his team can get hot at the right time.
One player Vandegrift hopes to see do that is senior Robert Coyne, who pioneered a historical year as a junior by placing third at the PSAC Championships, runner-up at the NCAA Super Regional and qualifying for the NCAA Championships. This year, on the other hand, has been a different story, as he has even been left out of the starting lineup twice.
“He has not played well,” Vandegrift admitted; however, “If he becomes focused, he has always been one of the top players.”
Although Vandegrift’s male squad still may have some tidying-up to do, there are reasons for people to look forward to a successful postseason run as May rolls around.
Gilbert, for instance, has amassed his fair share of top-10 performances, including two consecutive first-place finishes through March. Also, Rowe’s time is surely to come, as he has cozied himself close to the leaderboard, including three top-five placements.
“I have no doubt about Gilbert and Rowe,” Vandegrift said. “They’ll just start getting better and better.”
Senior Heile has even joined in the mix with his first tournament victory two weeks ago at the Goldey-Beacom Spring Invitational.
“We couldn’t have had a better situation happen,” Vandegrift lauded about Heile.
With all of this to back up his claim, the 30-year veteran coach understands that it isn’t the talent or the focus that may be the deciding factor of his players’ fate. It’s the depth.
“We don’t know where our best scores are coming from. It could be from the first player to the fifth player,” he said. “We’ve got a good mix. I hope that’s the edge we need, that they’re hungry enough to finish what we couldn’t finish last year.”
But with all the hustle and bustle of the season coming to a close in a few weeks, Vandegrift has had his eye on the future in order to pave the way for more young stars to filter in both the men’s and women’s team. This summer, he took advantage of his free time to recruit fresh talent—three of whom will be joining the ladies’ squad, five of whom will be heading over to the men’s squad.
“I just really spent some time talking with players, talking with families, and it really paid off,” Vandegrift said. “They saw our success, but they also saw we had four seniors this year. They wanted to come play for a winning program.”
So how much will Vandegrift’s two teams accomplish before those recruits even step onto the collegiate fairways? As the season comes to a climax—along with the careers of the likes of Rohrer, Coyne and Heile—time is all-the-more crucial for a sweet cherry on top of the 2013-14 season.
After all, as Vandegrift said, “They know that this is their last shot.”