Coming into the 2012 Jayhawk Conference Championship, the Hutchinson Community College men’s golf team had streaks of four-straight league championships and a run of four Region VI crowns in five years.
Then, for whatever reason, the Blue Dragons couldn’t put it together in the Jayhawk Championships and the streaks were finished. And the funk that beleaguered the Blue Dragons in that tournament, carried over to District III/Region VI Tournament and the NJCAA National Tournament.
As HCC head coach Chris Young prepares his 14th team for the upcoming season, he didn’t look at the way the Blue Dragons finished last season as the end of a great run for his team. Rather, just a “hiccup.”
“I still think that we are on that good run,” said Young, whose team opens the 2012 fall season at the first Jayhawk Conference-designated tournament on Monday at Hesston Golf Club. “We have won 5 of the last 6 conference championships and you just like to think that 2012 was just a hiccup. “We didn’t play bad last year. We were tied for the conference championship going into that last tournament and we just didn’t play as well as we wanted to.
“Our time isn’t over. It’s just a step in the process.”
Hutchinson finished second to Dodge City in both the Jayhawk Conference and Region VI and struggled to a 13th-place showing at the NJCAA National Championships.
Going into that final league tournament of 2012, HCC posted four team scores of 299 or less, including a 287 at the Salina Country Club.
Three players return from last season. In fact, Hutchinson is the only team in the Jayhawk Conference this year what returns three regular players from 2012.
“We are looking for big things from all three of those guys,” Young said of his returning sophomores. “They have been through it now and they know what college golf is all about.”
The top player from last year is Ben Cotton, who finished fifth in the league last season and was a first-team all-KJCCC performer. The sophomore from Oxford, England averaged 75.62 strokes per round last season, posting two rounds under par. He had one tournament victory and four Top-three finishes. Cotton finished 85th at nationals last season.
“Ben wasn’t the same kid mentally at the end of last year,” Young said. “He got very down on himself. When you start pressing, you don’t do your best.
“But now he’s back to being that happy, go-lucky kid. You can’t be perfect in this game. All you can go out and is do your best on each shot.”
Mason Varner of Midland, Texas, and Trey Hayden of Augusta are the other two returning sophomores.
Hayden finished tied for 86st at nationals last season. He averaged 78.44 strokes and had a low of 68 at Salina Country Club. Over the summer, Hayden qualified for the 64-player bracket at the Kansas Amateur and was eliminated in the opening round. He qualified as the 13th overall seed.
Varner has a pair of sub-par rounds in his freshmen season and finished at 78.87 for a stroke average. He finished tied for 105th in the national tournament.
“Trey and Mason are both capable of being Top 5 golfers,” Young said. “If they do that, we are going to OK.”
Hutchinson will have a fourth sophomore on the roster in 2012. Michael O’Connor is a transfer from Western New Mexico University, an NJCAA Division II program. O’Connor averaged 73.15 strokes per round at WNMU with a low round of 67. He won one tournament last season.
Four freshmen are on the 2012-12 roster.
Jordan Hecker is from Russell. He played on the Kansas Cup team after his sophomore and junior seasons in high school. Hecker didn’t play enough tournaments to qualify this past summer.
Trevor Pauls is the brother of former Blue Dragon All-American Grady Pauls. A multi-sport standout at Hesston High School, Pauls was the Swathers’ starting quarterback and point guard, so golf was a three-month sport. Now he’s giving his full attention to golf.
Zachery Zerger from Olathe and Zach Lohmeyer from Hutchinson round out the team.
“These kids will find out what it’s like to play golf eight months in a row,” Young said. “Once they figure out what college golf is all about, these guys could be pretty good.”
In addition to the three designated conference tournaments, HCC will play in Ottumwa, Iowa; Waco, Texas; and the NJCAA National Fall Preview in Lubbock, Texas.
“We want to play good competition in the fall so we can build toward something in the spring,” Young said. “If we make it hard on them now, the tournaments should be a little easier.”
(By Steve Carpenter, HCC Sports Information Director)