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2003-04 Preview
Talent-laden golf team aiming for repeat NCAA berth

On paper, Binghamton University’s 2003-04 golf team has the talent to return to the NCAA tournament. Five of the team’s top six players are back, and a marquis recruit should add additional firepower. But first-year head coach Nick Lasky, who replaced the retired John Affleck, cautions that the team still needs to outshine its competition in several crucial tournaments in the fall and spring.

“We have to continue to improve because everyone else is improving,” said Lasky, who took over the head coaching reigns after seven years as an assistant. “I believe we are a better team than last year because of our overall depth, but in order to keep our advantage, everyone on the team needs to work hard and push each other.”

Achieving success head-to-head against region rivals Rhode Island, Yale, Central Connecticut, Army and Hartford will be paramount to gaining a second-straight NCAA bid. Unlike the rest of BU’s sports, the Bearcats must present a convincing argument to a selection committee in order to receive an at-large national berth (the America East golf champion does not receive an automatic NCAA berth). Last spring the Bearcats did just that, earning one of three at-large spots afforded to District I.

Lasky’s 10-man squad features seniors Joe Kunz, Keith Hendrickson and Eric Vinal, sophomores Brad Moulton and Kevin Crawford and freshman Jeff Wolniewicz — six players who are vying for the five starting positions. Hendrickson (76.0), Moulton (76.11), Crawford (76.15) and Kunz (76.3) each played to within one stroke of each other last year, and Vinal (77.5) was close behind. Aaron Ungvarsky, the 2003 scholastic state runner-up in Massachusetts and nephew of PGA veteran Joey Sindelar, also has earned a spot on the team and is eager to break into the lineup, as are talented sophomores Matt Mattingly, Chris McLaughlin and Scott Harvey.

“With the addition of Jeff and Aaron, and the maturing of some of the returning players, we have a deeper squad, which will lead to more intersquad competition,” Lasky said. “That will start to push everyone to work on their games and continue to get better. I expect to have a difficult decision picking only five guys to represent us each week.”

Kunz has earned the No. 1 label from Lasky early in the fall. The former junior college national champion and 2003 all-region honoree is fresh from an outstanding summer season which was highlighted by a strong showing at the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship. Playing among a high-caliber field of 156, Kunz knocked off the 2001 junior amateur champion and advanced to the round of 16. Last year, he led the Bearcats with three tournament wins and captured America East medalist honors after carding rounds of 73-70 at BU’s En-Joie Golf Course. Kunz also placed third out of 114 golfers at the Yale Spring Open.

“Joe is the most talented ball-striker we have,” Lasky said. “He can hit hooks, fades, hit it long, high... play whatever shot is necessary. He’s also benefited a great deal from his summer experience at the U.S. Publinks. Playing in a national event, especially on the heels of our NCAA experience, really boosted his game and confidence. We are looking for senior leadership from Joe, which he’s demonstrated he can offer. He’s capable of shooting low consistently, and winning even more events than he did last year.”

Hendrickson begins his second year as the team’s No. 2 man. The 2003 all-region selection had seven top-10 finishes in 13 tournaments last year, including runner-up honors at the ECAC Championship and the Rehoboth Beach Invitational. Like Kunz, Hendrickson enjoyed a successful summer, most notably finishing second to former teammate Adam Fuchs at the Long Island Golf Association Publinks Championship played at Bethpage Black. He fired a 4-under 68 in the opening round at the notoriously treacherous course.

“Like Joe, Keith is very long off the tee,” Lasky said. “No par 5 is too long for him to reach in two, and he is also one of the best putters we have. With his talent, he’s never out of a hole. But Keith’s biggest asset is his competitiveness. He has a tremendous inner drive to play well, and everyone on the team looks to him for that intensity every week. He’s the backbone of the team.”

Vinal has earned the captain’s role for the year, and is a very capable player in the lineup. He played in nine tournaments last year, picking up four top-20 finishes. Vinal raised some eyebrows this summer with his performance at the Central NYPGA Emmett Kelly Pro-Am event. He fired a 68 to top dozens of club professionals and won the tournament.

“Eric will play a vital role in the success of our team,” Lasky said. “He is our only four-year player, and is an important link to our past players and tradition. He is a natural leader, and possesses one of the best swings on the team. We’re looking for him to have a breakout year.”

Moulton and Crawford provided the spark for the team’s late-season NCAA push last spring, and are middle lineup guys who are capable of firing low numbers on any given day. Even as a freshman, Moulton was the steadiest performer on the team last year. He produced six top-10 finishes and only four times in 27 rounds did the team not use his score. The Ontario native fired a 1-under 71 to place first at the competitive Rhode Island Invitational, leading BU to a victory that all-but sealed its NCAA selection. In addition, his 76.1 stroke average was the team’s lowest during the spring season.

Crawford, the 2002 New York State high school champion, earned a starting role in the spring, and paid dividends immediately. Six of his final eight rounds were 76 or lower, and he was the team’s low man at the NCAA East Regional. At Auburn University, Crawford closed the 54-hole event with an even-par 72 to finish in the top half of a loaded field that included 10 teams ranked in the nation’s top-25. His summer resume included a hole-in-one, a runner-up showing in the Buffalo District Golf Association Championship (72-71-69) and entry into the prestigious Porter Cup.

“Brad and Kevin brought a real dedication and work ethic to the team last year,” Lasky said. “They lifted weights and hit balls into the nets, and that hard work allowed each player to elevate his game throughout the season, culminating with posting the lowest stroke averages in the spring. Both guys are steady and are also excellent grinders, and that’s crucial with the weather conditions we endure. At any tournament you may not have your best stuff, but you can’t give up. I’ve found recruits from the Northeast in particular have that blue-collar mentality to grind it out.”

Wolniewicz has brought an even stronger game than Lasky anticipated, and the freshman may push his way into the starting lineup sooner rather than later. His credentials include runner-up honors at the New York State Junior Amateur Championship, being a top-10 placewinner at the New York State high school championship, placing fourth at the AJGA Lessings Classic, and competing at the New York State Amateur Championship, where he advanced to match play before falling to the eventual tournament winner. As a high school junior, Wolniewicz fired a 69 to qualify for the Porter Cup, becoming one of the youngest participants in that national event.

“Jeff has extensive junior golf credentials,” Lasky said. “He has played throughout the south and east, and has the ability to go low under pressure. He has exceptional skills and a calm demeanor on the golf course, which is so impressive for someone his age. Jeff has the talent and drive to be one of the best golfers we’ve ever had at Binghamton.”

Schedule sends BU up against the top teams in the Northeast
The 13-tournament schedule, split between the fall and spring, offers similar competition to past years. Along with traditional events hosted by Colgate, Cornell, Army and Yale, the Bearcats will be competing at the Central Connecticut State Invitational (Sept. 13-14) for the first time. The 54-hole Yale MacDonald Cup on October 11-12 is a high-profile event that will showcase the top teams in the region and offer early season bragging rights. Binghamton will then host the NBT Bank Classic at En-Joie Golf Course on October 18-19. The spring season will heat up with three crucial events in April - the New England Championship (April 10-11), the Rhode Island Invitational (April 23-24) and the America East Championship (April 26-27). Yale is set to host the NCAA East Regional on May 12-15, meaning if the Bearcats can earn an invitation, they would be playing a familiar course.

“The schedule is very Division I-oriented early in the season, which is different from previous years,” Lasky said. “We are being accpeted more in Division I, which has led to tournament invitations that were hard to come by in the past. I also think our selection to the NCAA regionals has made us more of the hunted rather than the hunter, so teams want a shot at us now.”

Team has rare balance between Nos. 1-5
Much of Binghamton’s success last season was due to the production throughout the starting lineup, and that advantage should continue in 2003-04. Unlike many teams that tend to have the kick-out scores come from their No. 4 and No. 5 men, BU received ample contributions from all five starters last year. In fact, with the exception of top player Adam Fuchs, Moulton (No. 4) and Crawford (No. 5) had the highest rate of “countable” rounds with each player reaching 85%. After 14 tournaments and some 27 rounds of golf, less than two strokes separated the top-five players, further showcasing the team’s balance and overall strength.

“Everyone on the team pushes each other,” Lasky said. “When your No. 4 and No. 5 guys post low, that puts pressure on your opponents and can wear on their psyche. Our guys enjoy the internal competition and take great pride in helping the team win. Everyone wants to be one of the counter scores- to play well for their teammates.”

Bearcats excited to begin new challenge
Lasky knows this is a special group of student-athletes, and the team’s enthusiasm is running rampant.

“I am privileged to be associated with these 10 young men,” he said. “There is a lot of excitement as the players return to campus, and the team has an expectation level that’s as high as I’ve ever seen. This team is hungry to get back to nationals.”

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