Head Coach Mike Small and the Illini men's golf team have championship goals heading into the 2003 spring season.
Jan. 27, 2003
Champaign, Ill. - Coming off a brilliant 2002 fall campaign that saw the Illini reach as high as sixth in the national rankings and finish the fall ranked among the nation's top dozen teams by Golfweek.com, the Illinois men's golf team has championship goals heading into the 2003 spring season.
"This will be our first team since I've been here that is going to be expected to do well," third-year Illini Head Coach Mike Small said. "I think our goal is to control those expectations and remember that we control our performance by how much work we put into it and how focused we remain. And if we do that, we'll be able to keep building on the success we've been having the past year and a half."
The Illini return all five players that led the team to a Big Ten runner-up finish and traveled to the NCAA Championships last season, finishing 18th. With the addition of a promising freshman this past fall, Illinois won back-to-back tournaments for the first time in 14 years, claiming team titles at the Northern Intercollegiate and Nestle Purina Classic.
Senior leadership will come from three-year letterwinner Geoff Lound. Lound, a two-time All-Big Ten selection, has been a mainstay in the Illini lineup since his freshman season. He ranks third in school history in career stroke average and hopes to go out on top in his final season of collegiate golf.
"Geoff is one of the main reasons we're having success, this program has turned around because of players like him," Small said. "He's come along and learned so much as a player and he's going to use that experience he's gained to better his future and provide solid leadership for our team this season."
James Lepp had perhaps the best freshman season in Illinois golf history last year, earning All-Big Ten and honorable mention All-America honors and was unanimously named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. He showed no signs of letting up this past fall, leading the team in stroke average and finishing in the top three in all three tournaments in which he participated, including earning medalist honors at the Northern Intercollegiate. He finished the fall ranked as the nation's No. 8 golfer by Golfweek.com.
"James had a phenomenal freshman year and obviously played great this fall. Now his challenge is to keep taking the necessary steps to progress as a player and to not get ahead of himself," Small said. "James is a very smart player, he knows that past success gives no guarantee for the future. His work ethic is first rate and he's very confident in his abilities."
Three freshmen made an immediate impact on the team last season, as Garrett Chaussard and Mike O'Neal joined Lepp as newcomers in the lineup each time out. The 2002 fall season saw the emergence of the next great Illini freshman, Patrick Nagle. Nagle had a stellar fall season, ranking second on the team in stroke average behind Lepp. He finished in the Top 10 in four of five tournaments, led by runner-up finishes at the Badger Invitational and Nestle Purina Classic.
"On paper, he had a better fall than even Lepp had last season," Small said. "Patrick is one of the most grounded, focused and mature young players that I've seen. His effort and focus is there every round, every day."
Competition in practice and qualifying rounds will be intense, as the Illini have a number of golfers capable of earning a position on the five-man traveling roster. That environment will help the Illini be prepared for when the team is on the road, competing in tournaments and fighting for a Big Ten title.
"That's our goal from day one, to win the Big Ten Championship and ultimately the NCAA Championship. It's a progression though, you can't win Big Tens or nationals unless you're playing well in all of the tournaments," Small said. "But our goals are to win tournaments, play the best we can, and see how good we can become. That's why we all play the game of golf, to see how good we can become."