JONESBORO, AR (A-STATE) – Set to begin its spring schedule Sunday, Feb. 28, at the Loyola Intercollegiate in Goodyear, Ariz., the Arkansas State men's golf team is coming off one of its most successful fall seasons in school history under new head coach Mike Hagen.
The Red Wolves will carry plenty of momentum into its upcoming outing after concluding the fall with back-to-back tournament championships for the first time since 2001-02. A-State either won or finished runner-up in three of its last four fall tournaments, helping it climb to No. 99 in the latest Golfweek.com national rankings.
The Red Wolves have already shown significant improvement over last year, when they finished ranked No. 194. The last time Arkansas State completed a season ranked among the top 100 teams in the nation was 2002-03 when it finished 99th.
"We've been practicing hard and doing all the right things leading up to our first event this spring," said Hagen. "I'm hopeful we can use the momentum we built last fall to start strong this spring. I'm excited to see us take that next step as a team."
Eight A-State players ranked among the top 50 in Sun Belt Conference head-to-head records, combining to help the squad post a 290.2 team stroke average for its five tournaments played this past fall. The Red Wolves' average is a full nine strokes lower than it was at the end of last season, as well as its best in over a decade.
Golfweek.com's 2016 Sun Belt Conference preview listed Arkansas State as its "sleeper" team, with the author stating "this group has already jumped 95 spots from last year's team…I'm intrigued to see what happens with this group." A junior transfer from Indian Hills (Iowa) Community College, where he was also coached by Hagen, Andrew Huseman was named to Golfweek's Midseason All-Sun Belt Conference Team as well.
According to Golfstat.com, Huseman is the Sun Belt's No. 1-ranked golfer with a 73-0 record against players from other league schools. He posted a team-best 72.2 stroke average in the fall, which was also the third best in the Sun Belt. Ranked 36th in the nation by Golfstat, Huseman is on pace to post the lowest season stroke average by an A-State player since Zoltan Veress recorded a 72.18 during the 1999-2000 campaign.
Led by Huseman and six other A-State players who finished the fall ranked among the top 40 Sun Belt players in stroke average, Arkansas State posted two of the top three single-round scores over the last nine seasons. Additionally, the Red Wolves recorded two three-round scores that rank among the program's top 10 over the last decade.
Joining Huseman with scoring averages ranking among the top 25 players in the Sun Belt were seniors Oswin Schlenkrich and Seth Garner. Schlenkrich posted a 72.5 average and Garner a 73.2, which rank tied for 10th and 20th in the league, respectively. The Red Wolves, who have five players currently carrying one of the top-10 stroke averages by an A-State player over the last 10 seasons, have gained significant depth as their 77.4 average drop score is the best in the conference.
Besides Huseman, Schlenkrich and Garner, A-State saw five other players contribute to it its fall success. Freshman Joel Wendin holds the team's fourth best scoring average at 73.6. Along with Schlenkrich, he holds a 55-18 record against Sun Belt opponents that ranks 17th in the league.
Junior Matt Loiacano had his best finish at the Sun Belt Conference Preview, placing tied for seventh, and holds a 49-24 record against league opponents that is the 24th best among his conference peers. Freshman Cameron McRae posted a 73.8 stroke average that ranks fifth on the squad and is currently the eighth lowest by an A-State player over the last nine seasons.
Sophomores Trent Jones and Tanner Napier combined to see 13 rounds of action in the fall. Jones finished tied for seventh at the Memphis Intercollegiate, which was the second-best showing by an A-State player at the tourney. Napier played in two tournaments, including the WKU/Kenny Perry Invitational and A-State Fall Beach Classic.