By Cameron Blair
After a dominating performance in the OVC Championships in Paducah, Eastern’s men’s golf team will be heading to the NCAA Regionals for the second time in three seasons.Consistency was one of the keys for the Colonels during their run through the OVC Championship.
Three Colonel golfers finished in the top five, four finished in the top 10 and all five of Eastern’s golfers finished in the top 20.
Head Coach Pat Stephens said the team will have to maintain their tempo to be successful at the NCAA Regionals.
“We just have to go out and be consistent,” Stephens said. “Our guys just have to draw upon the experience they’ve had over the last several years.”
Seniors Phil Hendrickson and Justin Moore, and juniors Trey Bowling and Jessie Massie, played significant roles on the 2006 OVC championship team and led the Colonels to their first-ever appearance at the NCAA National Championships.
Hendrickson led the team during the regular season with a stroke average of 71.8, the lowest in the OVC.
The Danville native was also named the OVC Player of the Year after the conference tournament.
However, the Colonels are more than a one-man show with three Colonel golfers named to the All-Tournament team.
Massie and senior Ryan Britt joined Hendrickson on the five-member squad-and none of the five Colonels going to the NCAA Regionals averaged more than 73.6 strokes per round.
Stephens said Britt’s emergence this season has been a highlight for him.
“Watching Ryan Britt this season has been a joy,” Stephens said. “He filled the fifth spot all year long. He was the only one that hadn’t played in the OVC Tournament and he went down there and made the All-Tournament team.”
Eastern’s victory in the OVC Championship was the 11th in team history and the second under Stephens.
Stephens also won his first OVC Coach of the Year award after the tournament.
Stephens, a Madison County native, said he has an advantage some other coaches may not when it comes to relating to players.
“The fact that I still play and compete with passion gives me an advantage, I think,” Stephens said. “I’ve learned you have to create a relationship with the players and gain their respect. They have to believe in you.”
Eastern has won seven tournaments and has placed in the top five in 10 of 12 tournaments they have participated in during the 2008 season.
With such a successful season, Stephens said the players do not need to make any major changes to do well at Regionals.
“As long as they continue to play like they have all season, they’ll be fine,” Stephens said. “They just can’t get caught up in the hype of the NCAA Tournament.”
The NCAA Regional Finals are scheduled to tee off May 15.
The teams with the ten best finishes will move on to the NCAA Finals May 28 in West Lafayette, Ind.