After getting a taste of life as a nationally-ranked team, the Mount Vernon Nazarene College men's golf team returns a veteran squad for the 2002 season as the Cougars look to build on the recognition that they have started to earn.
MVNC capped one of the best seasons in the program's history by finishing tied for 12th out of 27 teams at the NAIA National Tournament in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Cougars posted an 88-27-2 overall record and won three tournaments during the regular season.
Now, with four of its starting five returning from a year ago and a talented group of newcomers, the stage is set for MVNC to continue to make its mark on the national scene.
"Last year, we made the most of our opportunity at the national tournament," said head coach Mike O'Hara, who is entering his seventh season of leading the Cougars with a 496-194-4 overall record. "After finishing as high as we did, we have proven that we can 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, MVNC is led by two four-year seniors. Todd Mazur averaged 78.1 strokes per round last year and made the American Mideast Conference Team, while Tim Hirschy, an NAIA Academic All-American, posted an 80.5 average. Both players will be counted on for their leadership.
Chad Gress, Joel Meeks, and Ben Sharrock make up a solid junior class. Gress led the Cougars with a 75.4 average in 2001 as he was named to the AMC Team and the NAIA Honorable Mention Team in addition to claiming medalist honors at the MVNC Invitational. Meeks transferred to MVNC from Columbus State Community College after finishing 13th at the Junior College National Tournament and being named to the JUCO All-American First Team. Meanwhile, Sharrock begins his third season in the program.
A strong sophomore class will push the upperclassmen and be a key to the team's success in 2002. Brian Bumgarner started every tournament as a freshman with a 76.4 average, and he became the first MVNC golfer to earn NAIA All-American honors as he finished in a tie for 13th place individually at the NAIA National Tournament to automatically earn a spot in the 2002 NAIA National Tournament.
Nathanael Petry added a 77.8 average during an outstanding freshman year in which he was named to the Glenville State (W.Va.) College All-Tournament Team and finished as the MVNC Invitational runner-up. Scott Snyder transferred in from Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) University, and Brandon Kenney returns for his second season.
Two freshmen, Raynard Martin and David Yingst, round out the roster. Martin finished ninth in the West Virginia High School state tournament, while David Yingst has had experience playing in several junior golf tournaments.
"We have a solid roster from top to bottom," said O'Hara. "Our upperclassmen have a lot of experience, and our younger players are very talented. They will push each other constantly as each player battles for one of the five starting spots."
MVNC, which received votes in the NAIA preseason poll, will begin the season with a week of practice rounds in Palm Coast, Florida - the site of the 2002 NAIA National Tournament. Then, the team will return north for eight regular-season tournaments. The Cougars will close out the season at the AMC/NAIA Region IX Tournament on May 2-3 when the team will look to qualify for the NAIA National Tournament for the second straight year and the third time in the program's history.