Other than the challenges of preparing to play the four-day NJCAA Division III national tournament June 4-8 at Chautauqua (N.Y.) Golf Club, an unfamiliar golf course, the Central Lakes College Raiders men's team is faced with another challenge: Playing without one of its top players.
Sophomore Justin Speer, who was consistently the team's No. 2 or No. 3 player last fall, left CLC for personal reasons in January.
"Losing Justin is a blow," Raiders coach Jim Russell said. "But it also
gives somebody else a chance. We always talk about the 12th man on the bench or in this case the sixth man on the golf team. You always have to work hard and stay ready and Brad Buster is that guy.
"He's earned this chance. He played in a couple of tournaments, he practiced hard and now has a chance to prove himself.
"Out of everyone else on the roster, he's the guy the rest of the team members picked."
What: NJCAA Division III national tournament
Where: Chautauqua Golf Club, Chautauqua, N.Y.
When: Monday through Friday
Team members: Joe Kavanaugh, Derek Harris, Spencer Sundberg, Dan Ament, Brad Buster.
Buster, a freshman, will join sophomores Joe Kavanaugh, Derek Harris and freshmen Spencer Sundberg and Dan Ament at nationals.
A year ago the Raiders entered the national tournament as defending champions. While they didn't repeat, they did finish a respectable third. Harris finished 23rd individually last year and Kavanaugh was 33rd. But, the experience of being in the title hunt should come into play this week.
"Joe and Derek are great leaders," said Russell. "They know what the course is about, the weather and what to expect overall. I'm excited to see how they do and I'd like to see them get All-American honors."
Last fall the Raiders won five tournaments with Harris winning four individual titles, including three in a row. Kavanaugh also came through with a few tournament wins of his own.
In the Region 13 tournament at Madison, Wis., the Raiders held the lead after the first day. But, on day two, Madison Tech caught fire and overtook CLC to win the region title. The Raiders still earned a spot at nationals due to a new rule that allows the runner-up team to advance to the national tournament.
Heading into the national tournament Russell has no expectations for his squad and will try to take advantage of playing the underdog.
"Even if we were ranked No. 1 we still wouldn't go in with expectations," Russell said. "We know this is a long tournament and it's not like we're in our backyard. We're going to play the underdog role well and try to surprise some people.
"I think you play a lot better when you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. That's the way we have to go in thinking."
The short game and putting will again be areas of importance if CLC intends to contend for a title and the undulating greens at Chautauqua Golf Club will present a challenge.
"The toughest part is putting and working the greens," Russell said. "There's different landscape and different ways of reading the greens. But if the guys can read the greens and figure out how to putt them, they should be fine."
Russell said Chautauqua Golf Club traditionally plays short and with the makeup of this year's squad, the course layout could be in the Raiders' favor.
"This year, with the different chemistry and talent we have, we've focused more on the fairways," Russell said. "The course isn't long so you don't have to hit the driver every time. This year's team is more about course management and putting yourself in the right spots.
"I think this course can play in their favor if they play smart. The year we won the national title we had guys that didn't really hit the ball long but they played smart. If they can do that, then we should do well."
TROY GUNDERSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5865.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.