The Mount Vernon Nazarene College men's golf team capped off one of the best seasons in school history with a 12th-place finish at the NAIA National Tournament as the Cougars finished the year with an overall record of 88-27-2.
After a rigorous conditioning and weight-lifting program and a successful fall season that included a second-place finish at the National Christian College Athletic Association National Tournament, MVNC began its 2001 campaign with its annual trip to Brooksville, Florida, for a week of practice rounds at the World Woods Golf Course.
Upon returning north, the Cougars got off to a great start by winning the 16-team Glenville State (W.V.) College Invitational by firing a two-day total of 604 at the predominantly NCAA Division II event. Freshman Nathanael Petry led MVNC with a 149 as he was named to the All-Tournament Team by finishing in a tie for fourth place.
The Cougars followed that performance with a fourth-place finish at the 10-team Malone College Invitational as MVNC fired a two-day 608 to finish 27 strokes behind the defending NAIA national champion Pioneers. Sophomore Chad Gress and freshman Brian Bumgarner led the team by each shooting a 150.
At the Shawnee State University Invitational, the Cougars finished second to Urbana University by seven shots with a 303. Bumgarner and senior Matt Durst each tied for second place by registering a 74.
The next tournament for MVNC was the highly-competitive Southeastern Kentucky Intercollegiate Invitational where the Cougars finished eighth out of 17 teams by firing a two-day total of 618 to finish 27 strokes behind tournament champion Life (Ga.) University. Bumgarner led the team once again with a 150.
MVNC followed that performance with its second tournament title of the year as the Cougars won the nine-team Urbana University Invitational by 14 strokes with a two-day total of 616. Individually, Bumgarner finished second at 153, while Gress was third at 155. Durst and junior Todd Mazur also tied for fourth at 156.
The team continued to play well as MVNC finished second out of seven teams at the Walsh University Invitational as the Cougars fired a two-day total of 636 to finish 21 shots behind the host Cavaliers. Gress posted the low score for the team with a 157, while Durst was right behind at 158.
Next up for MVNC was its own six-team invitational which the Cougars won by nine strokes over Shawnee State as the team fired a team-total of 457 over 27 holes in the rain-shortened event on its way to its third title of the season. Gress earned medalist honors with a one-over-par 109, while Petry was the runner-up at 114.
MVNC closed out the regular season as the Cougars finished second out of six teams at the Cedarville University Invitational with a two-day total of 621 to finish three shots behind Shawnee State for the title. Gress finished third overall with a 149 that included a two-under-par 70 on the second day.
With the regular season behind them, the team began postseason play in the NAIA Region IX Tournament. MVNC finished third out of 10 teams at the tournament as the Cougars posted a 54-hole total of 898 to trail just Malone (886) and Walsh (892). Gress and Mazur each made the American Mideast Conference Team as they fired a 218 and 225 respectively to lead the way.
Despite not earning an automatic berth into the NAIA National Tournament, the Cougars received the final at-large berth into the 27-team event at the Isleta Eagle Golf Course in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as MVNC made only its second appearance in the tournament as a team.
The Cougars made the most of their opportunity as they fired a team-total of 1203 over four rounds to finish in a tie for 12th place. Oklahoma City University, the top-ranked team in the NAIA, won the national title with a four-day total of 1176 to finish 27 strokes ahead of MVNC.
Individually, Bumgarner became the first Cougar golfer to earn NAIA All-American honors as he finished in a tie for 13th place at 295. Gress was also named an NAIA Honorable Mention All-American as he finished in a tie for 31st place at 298. Petry shot a 303, Durst carded a 314, and Mazur rounded out the scoring at 319.
"I am extremely proud of the effort that this team put forth," said head coach Mike O'Hara, whose squad averaged a school-record 305.3 strokes per round average for the year. "This group worked really hard during the off-season to get to where they finished the year. All the weightlifting and conditioning that we did really made a difference down the stretch."
"The team also made the most of their opportunity at the national tournament," O'Hara added. "After finishing as high as we did, we have proven that we compete right with the top teams in the NAIA. That has helped our players believe that with a lot of hard work and continued improvement we can battle for the national title in the near future."
Individually, Gress finished with the best average on the team at 75.4 strokes per round. Bumgarner, who was selected as the Cougar Sports Associates "Freshman of the Year", was next at 76.4. Petry (77.8), Durst (78.1), Mazur (78.1), and junior Tim Hirschy (80.5) rounded out the scoring for the varsity team.
"Each of the varsity players put together outstanding seasons," said O'Hara. "I was really impressed with Brian (Bumgarner)'s composure at the national tournament. For a freshman, he really handled the pressure extremely well. Chad (Gress) also put together one of the best seasons of an MVNC golfer."
"Matt (Durst) provided solid leadership as the team's only senior," O'Hara added. "He helped lay the foundation for the success that we are reaping now, and we will miss him greatly. Nathanael (Petry), Todd (Mazur), and Tim (Hirschy) all improved tremendously this year, and we expect big things out of them next year."
With all but one player returning from this year's squad, the future of the MVNC men's golf program looks very bright.