Bucknell Men's Golf Debuts Friday at Bucknell Invitational
Sept. 15, 2011
LEWISBURG, Pa. --After having its season-opening tournament at Colgate rained out last week, the Bucknell men's golf team gets its 2011-12 campaign underway this Friday and Saturday at the 17th annual Bucknell Invitational at Bucknell Golf Club. The Bison will have two teams entered and will be joined by 11 visiting teams, including five others from the Patriot League.
The Bucknell Invitational will be a 54-hole event, consisting of 36 holes on Friday and 18 more on Saturday morning. Joining the Bison will be Patriot League rivals Army, Navy, Colgate, Lehigh and Lafayette, as well as Canisius, Fordham, Laval, Longwood, Messiah and Ottawa.
Coach Jim Cotner will start two five-man teams, headed by a veteran "Orange" squad consisting of senior Will Bachman, juniors Dan Bernard, Jon Hartman and J.J. Szmadzinski, and sophomore Schuyler Stitzer. The "Blue" team will feature sophomores Thomas Walter and Billy Wright, and freshmen Pete Scialabba, Zach Pogust and Patrick Hagerty.
Bucknell has dominated this event in recent years, winning six of the last eight titles, including the last four in a row. Last season, the Bison came from four shots behind at the start of the final round to defeat Robert Morris by just one stroke. Hartman closed with rounds of 68-69 to finish in second place individually, three shots behind Robert Morris' C.G. Mercatoris.
Here is a more detailed team preview heading into the 2011-12 season:
After winning three Patriot League titles in a four-year span from 2006-09, the Bison men's golf team is coming off back-to-back fifth-place finishes in the conference meet. To a man, the members of the team will say their talent exceeds those results, and this year's team is intent on refocusing on the details needed to climb back to the top of the league when the championship returns to the Bucknell Golf Club on Apr. 28-29, 2012.
"Every team in the Patriot League has gotten so much stronger," says head coach Jim Cotner, now in his 11th season. "Last year we did not have a good showing at the league championship, and that is serving as a big motivating factor. There is a sense of excitement about this season that I didn't get last year, and these guys really want to get back to the top echelon."
From a talent standpoint, Cotner figures to have plenty of it at his disposal. Led by the team's lone senior, Will Bachman, the Bison return five players who have seen considerable tournament action and four who played in the 2011 Patriot League Championship. All five of those returnees have shot even par or better in a tournament round, and all posted stroke averages of 77 or better last season, led by Jon Hartmanwith a 74.6.
"We have the makeup to be very competitive," Cotner feels. "A lot of our success will depend on our ability to have guys shoot consistent scores, rather than some of the peaks and valleys that we have seen. I really like the attitude and outlook of the team. They came back to school focused and with their games in good shape."
Team captain Bachman is the most experienced of the returnees, having been in the lineup at the Patriot League Championship in each of his first three seasons. In 2011-12 he compiled an average of 76.2, highlighted by a 6-under-par 66 in the second round of the Colgate Invitational that tied a school record for score in relation to par. Bachman was in contention for a Patriot League title after starting 73-73 last April, but he struggled in the final round and is determined to get back in that spot this year.
"Will has been a real solid player since he's been here," says Cotner. "He has worked very hard on his physical conditioning, and as a result he has improved his length quite a bit to go with his excellent short game. As he has gotten older, we are also finding out what a strong leader he is."
Behind Bachman are a trio of talented and experienced juniors in Hartman, Dan Bernard and J.J. Szmadzinski. Coming off shoulder surgery that cost him the spring season of his freshman year, Hartman bounced back in a big way last year. In his first tournament after the injury, Hartman put up two straight rounds in the 60s (77-68-69) in a runner-up finish at the Bucknell Invitational. He added two more sub-par rounds en route to a 74.4 fall scoring average, the second-best in program history.
Hartman averaged 76.3 in the spring and finished 16th at the Patriot League Championship after a final-round 72.
"For the first time in his career, Jon is fully healthy, which has allowed him to spend a lot more time working on his game," says Cotner. "He had a great academic semester last spring, which seems to have lifted a lot of the pressure off his shoulders. He has shown his ability, and his next challenge is that consistency. Jon has also stepped up into more of a leadership role."
Bernard has also shown great promise in his first two seasons at Bucknell. Last season he finished T-9th at the Bucknell Invitational, and in the spring he shot 2-over for the tournament and finished T-4th at the Wilmington Invitational.
"I am looking forward to a strong year from Dan," Cotner predicts. "He struggled a bit at the end of last season, and he has a lot of demands as an engineering major. As he has gotten settled in academically, he has been able to put in a lot more time working on his golf game, and he worked really hard this summer. Two years ago he was club champion at Aronimink, so you know he has plenty of game."
Szmadzinski has also posted some good scores over the last two years, and like Bernard turned in two top-10 finishes in 2010-11. He finished T-9th at the Bucknell Invitational with rounds of 72-75-74, and he was T-4th at the Wilmington Invitational after shooting 71-73. This year he is determined to make the Patriot League Championship lineup for the first time, and if his summer play is any indication, he may be well on his way. After being the second low qualifier, Szmadzinski made it to the quarterfinals of the Michigan Open, where he lost in 23 holes to the eventual champion.
"J.J. should be one of our strongest, most consistent players this year," Cotner offers. "He seems to be enjoying competitive golf so much more and is not putting as much pressure on himself. In the past every shot has been life or death for him, but now his demeanor on the golf course seems so much more relaxed."
Another key player figures to be sophomore Schuyler Stitzer, who was the low Bison at the Patriot League Championship as a freshman last season. He shot 75-76-72 and finished T-13th, and the lefty completed his rookie year with a 75.9 average, second-best on the team behind Hartman. Stitzer broke par twice and only had three rounds in the 80s all year.
"Schuyler is coming off a really good freshman year," compliments Cotner. "He loves competition and has performed very well under the gun. He's not a guy who gets hung up much on the mechanics of the golf swing. He is a very natural, feel-type player, and as a result he has very few major flaws. He's our version of Fuzzy Zoeller, just a fun-loving, free-wheeling guy who loves the game of golf."
Thomas Walter and Billy Wright are also promising members of the sophomore class. Three newcomers join the squad this year in freshmen Patrick Hagerty, Zach Pogust and Pete Scialabba. Of the three, Scialabba played the best in preseason qualifying, and Cotner thinks he could be a potential star.
"Peter comes in probably as strong an overall player that I've seen since guys like Abbie Valentine and Charlie Waddell," says Cotner. "From his ball-striking ability to his short game to his putting, I have yet to see a glaring weakness in his game. His father is the former assistant pro at Fox Chapel, so he has some maturity in his game for a guy his age. He has to work hard to adjust to the lifestyle of college golf, but he has great potential if he can put it together."
As the Bison have coped with some wet September weather and then looks ahead to the winter, they will surely benefit from their beautiful new indoor/outdoor practice center. The indoor elements of the facility include locker room and meeting space, as well as covered hitting bays and putting green. Outside the building are a new practice range and two large greens.
"The new facility is absolutely wonderful," says Cotner. "When the weather turns bad we have never had a place to work on our short game, particularly putting. From 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., the guys have a place to come in and practice, and they can work it into their busy days throughout the winter. Just as important, the facility has helped with team bonding and unity. It is a central spot for the team to be together, whether it's studying or practicing or just hanging out."
Bucknell will host the Patriot League Championship for the fifth time this spring. The last time Bucknell Golf Club was the site of the league tournament was 2007, and the Bison won the title that year.