We have reached intermission for the 2013-14 college season, which means only one thing for loyal readers of Campus Insider.
Time for the annual Golf World Mid-Season College Awards.
By now you know the drill, this being the ninth year of the MiSCAs* ... Once again the hope is to recognize several honorees for the hard work they put in during the first half of the season. Each day I'll reveal a new award and its recipients, culminating in the men's and women's Player of the Mid-Season Award on Monday, Nov. 25. *
**Trying to find acronym for the awards. Not sure if this really does the trick. Suggestions are welcome.
In the process, we'll assess what we've seen during the first three months of action and take an educated guess at what might be in store when the break ends in late January and the play continues.
With that, I'll begin by revealing my biggest surprises of the first semester. __SURPRISE PLAYERS of the Mid-Season
Trey Mullinax, Alabama__
The early departure of All-American Justin Thomas left a void in Tuscaloosa that most thought would best be filled by blue-chip recruit Robby Shelton as the 2013-14 Crimson Tide went about beginning their national title defense this fall. As it turned out, however, there was a holdover from the last year's team that was being overlooked in Mullinax, the "other" returning senior who, along with Cory Whitsett and Bobby Wyatt have provided all the leadership coach Jay Seawell could have ever wanted.
In four starts, Mullinax has finished no worse than tied for sixth individually, including a victory at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational (right). The four top-10 finishes double his previous career output, and his 69.17 average outpaces Shelton (70.42), Wyatt (70.58) and Whitsett (72.08). Suffice it to say, the Birmingham, Ala., native is a key reason while Alabama managed to go undefeated in their four starts, the best performance from any team in school history.
So where did this come from? Seawell professes that Mullinax always had this kind of talent but that it was waiting to be revealed. Enter Mike McGraw, the former Oklahoma State head coach who joined the team as an assistant coach after being let go by the Cowboys this summer. McGraw has worked closely with Mullinax (walking with him during every round of the fall) and helped particularly with the 21-year-old wedge game.
"Trey has always been a sponge, and Mike's attention to detail and passion for the game has helped them really connect," Seawell said. "There's a dedication and a focus that has helped make Trey a better player."
Honorable mention: Ben Crancer, Texas A&M
Three top-10 finishes in the fall—including a win at the Dick's Challenge Cup—helped the 20-year-old sophomore from Kirkwood, Mo., claim a 70.09 average and lift the Aggies to a top-10 ranking in all the major college polls. It comes after Crancer posted a 74.3 average while earning the team's newcomer of the year award in 2012-13.
Caroline Nistrup, LSU
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The number of incoming freshman being touted as "ready for prime time" upon arriving in college was high this fall, but the 19-year-old from Denmark wasn't necessarily expected to have this kind of impact. In four starts, however, Nistrup has three top-seven finishes and a T-13.
In particular, Nistrup has shown an ability to go low, posting a second-round 65 at the Schooner Fall Classic and a second-round 67 at the Ruth's Chris Tar Heel Invitational. As the Tigers search for consistency (they had two top three finishes and two 11th-place showings), they look like they have an anchor to rely in in Nistrup.
Photo: Steve Franz/LSU athletics
Honorable mention: Jennifer Yang, Washington
The experience the junior from Canada has gained starting in 23 events the last two seasons came to bare fruit this fall as she posted a 71.33 stroke average (compared to a 74.95 career mark entering the fall) in three starts, finishing T-3, T-7 and T-18 for the 11th-ranked Huskies. A 78 in her last round of the fall was six strokes worse than her other eight rounds, otherwise her numbers would be even more impressive.
__SURPRISE TEAMS of the Mid-Season
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Exactly how things might shake out for the Cowboys—winners of just one tournament in the previous two seasons—was uncertain after a turbulent summer that saw former coach/current athletic director Mike Holder let Mike McGraw go as head coach, replacing him with Alan Bratton as for the first time in the program's history an involuntary coaching change occurred. Two wins (U.S. Collegiate, Royal Oaks Intercollegiate) and two other top-three finishes is likely as good as anyone could have predicted and speaks to two points:
1) The squad had more talent on the roster than many gave them credit for.
The emergence this summer of sophomore Jordan Niebrugge (winner of the U.S. Public Links and Western Amateur) as a elite golfer, along with the continued development of seniors Ian Davis and Kevin Dougherty and redshirt freshman Wyndham Clark suggests that the squad might have underachieved in past seasons. (And if senior Talor Gooch returned to the form he had as a freshman, the results might be even better.)
2) Bratton is a capable motivator.
The former All-American at OSU had a similar quick start to his coaching career when he took over the women's program at Oklahoma State in 2011-12, winning his first two tournaments.
That he would have things settled down so quickly in Stillwater after arguably the most tumultuous off-season in school history speaks volumes for what might be ins store for the team this spring.
The Blazers hadn't been ranked in the Golf World/Nike Golf men's coaches' polls since October 2007 until four straight top-three finishes under first-year coach Alan Murray and senior Wilson McDonald (69.75 avg.) propelled them to the No. 15 spot in the latest poll.
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When you're a first-year program with five freshmen in your starting lineup, exactly what can you expect from your squad? Is four top-five finishes in four starts and a No. 13 national ranking asking too much?
If so, somebody needs to tell J.T. Horton and his Tigers' squad that they're not supposed to be doing what they're doing.
Of course it helps when you've got one of college golf's top players anchoring your lineup: Ashlan Ramsey. Her 70.75 average and two individual victories have given Clemson a consistent scoring threat to build around. "The biggest thing Ashlan brings to the table is a lot of confidence," Horton said earlier in the fall. "She can lead by example, which is something you love to have in your program whether the player is a freshman or a senior."
Still Ramsey's teammates have her back too. Sloan Shanahan (72.0) has two top-threes and no finish worse than 14th to her credit and McKenzie Talbert (74.33) has two top-15 finishes. "Every player on our team has made an effort to help this program in every single way since day one," Horton said. "That's not a given on any team. It's the thing I'm most proud of."
Honorable mention: Pepperdine
For just the second time in eight seasons the Waves claimed two team titles during the fall, winning the Dick McGuire and the Golfweek Conference Challenge. All-American Grace Na continues to impress, but the emergence of Marissa Chow has Pepperdine fans excited for the spring.