Sunday, September 14, 2003

Xavier golf evolves into top program


College update: Freshmen phenoms, veterans lead way

By Shannon Russell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Five years ago, Matt Makinson chose to play for a youthful Xavier University golf program because it was "always trying to get better."

Now the program is so loaded, the award-laden senior is fighting to play in every tournament.

"If you slip up or have a bad round in a qualifier, you can miss a tournament just like that," said Makinson, who entered the season ranked fourth in school history with a 74.80 career average. "You always have to think about it now."

Xavier kick-started its fall season with a second-place finish at the Mid Pines Intercollegiate Golf Tournament in Southern Pines, N.C. Sept. 8-9, ousting NCAA heavyweights and setting three school records.

The Muskies rewrote the 36-holes school record at the tournament's start, shooting a 560 and catapulting into a second-place tie. Xavier shot a school-record 12-under 276 in Tuesday's final round, which contributed to a school-record 28-under 836 for 54 holes.

Coach Doug Steiner has been waiting 16 years for a team like this. Led by captains Makinson and Miles Maillet, the team's two-year scoring average leader, Xavier's depth runs through junior Neal Grusczynski (third in school history with a 74.71 career-average) and freshmen Jason Kokrak and John Streibich.

"I think this is a culmination of teams before that have continued to get better," Steiner said. "We're getting to the point where we're starting to see these things come together."

Five of the team's 12 players compete in a given tournament, so five entrants are determined by qualifiers. The surprises have already begun: Streibich supplanted sophomore Andy Pope - sixth in Xavier career annals (75.34 average) - in the first qualifier.

The freshmen created a buzz in the preseason. Kokrak, a John F. Kennedy Catholic (Cleveland) grad, is the 2003 Ohio High School Golfer of the Year. Virgin Islands native Streibich is the St. Thomas/St. John Male Athlete of the Year.

"(Steiner) kept telling us 'These guys are good.' They're going to make you work," Maillet said. "Some guys didn't believe it at first."

Being able to attract such high-caliber players is a reflection of the advances the program has made, Steiner said. Though he was upgraded to a full-time staff member as recently as 2001-2002, Steiner has led the Muskies to multiple conference titles. When he began, the school awarded no scholarships; it now offers a college-golf maximum 4.5.

This year the team hosts two tournaments. Besides the annual Provident Invitational in Mason Oct. 13-14, the Muskies will travel to the St. Croix Collegiate Classic in the Virgin Islands March 5-7.

Xavier, the defending Atlantic-10 champion, has made two NCAA Tournament appearances - but never a finals berth. Getting out of regionals and into the nation's top-30 field won't be easy, but this year Steiner believes Xavier has the personnel to do it.

"If we can keep this up," Maillet said, "we can be pretty amazing."

Others

• Mount St. Joseph running back Ricky Story (Western Hills) was named Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week after rushing for a career-high 213 yards on 38 carries and a career-high four touchdowns in the Lions' 26-12 defeat of Wilmington.

• Mount St. Joseph setter Molly Middendorf (McAuley) was named Heartland Collegiate Conference Player of the Week after notching 71 assists, 70 digs, 24 kills, three aces and a .356 hitting percentage in the season's opening weekend.

• Centre College running back Lorenzo Engleman (Hughes) was named the Offensive Player of the Week in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference. The senior scored three touchdowns and accumulated 261 yards rushing and receiving.

• Heidelberg College freshman Kasey Hill (School of Performing Arts) was named the Ohio Athletic Conference Women's Soccer Player of the Week after scoring two goals in a 2-0 win over Bluffton, Heidelberg's first win since Oct. 17, 2002.

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E-mail srussell@enquirer.com




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ENQUIRER PAGE TWO
Simple twists of fate
Xavier golf evolves into top program
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