They won't settle for par.
The Indiana University East men's golf team tees off a season of high expectations March 8 at the Millikin University Big Blue Spring Opener.
IU East teams and individuals have contended for Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference honors and national tournament berths in recent years. Red Wolves coach Von Ebeling thinks his current pack – seven returnees, including two all-conference performers - could climb to the top of the KIAC leaderboard this spring.
"As we navigate our team through this spring season, we must raise the bar with each event," Ebeling says. "We must look at each challenge independently of the next. We must absolutely figure out along the way what it is going to take to put us in a position to win the conference tournament and move on to the NAIA National Tournament.
"If we can incrementally raise the bar consistently throughout our spring season, then we will be poised to take a shot at the conference championship."
WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR?
Regular season: IU East finished ahead of 13 of 38 opponents at spring tournaments last year, including a runner-up finish at the Berea College Spring Tee-Off.
Conference: IU East finished third at the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference meet, just one stroke out of second place.
Joey Smart, redshirt sophomore
Joey burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman last spring, winning the KIAC Player of the Year award. He led the Red Wolves with an 18-hole season average of 78.2, including the lowest 18-hole, 36-hole and 54-hole spring scores in the program's NAIA history.
"After transferring from Morehead State University, Joey has bought into this team," Coach Ebeling says. "As a commuting student, he has been spending more time on campus and in the athletic department working on his courses. His skills and ability are right where they need to be to repeat earning the KIAC Player of the Year distinction. He has a vast wealth of knowledge for the game. He is very methodical yet somewhat fearless in his club choices as he plays the course. We will look to him to get low scores for our team each time out on the course."
Hubie Branstetter, redshirt sophomore
Hubie redshirted the 2011-12 season after posting an 18-hole average of 88.0 as a freshman.
"Hubie is a player who adds depth to our roster," Coach Ebeling says. "He is quite able to perform and is always prepared mentally and physically to adapt to the rigors of the courses. As an upperclassman, he is familiar with many of the courses we play in the conference. He could break into the starting lineup at any moment he is relied upon."
Luke Warren, sophomore
Luke was an all-conference honoree and was second on the team with an 18-hole average of 81.8.
"Luke has had to battle with the condition of his hip. Last spring we had to basically sit him out every other match to keep him healthy," Coach Ebeling says. "Under his doctor's orders, we have made some adjustments to keep him in the lineup all the way through the spring season. Regardless of the hip, he is always ready to play. He rarely takes a practice swing and steps up addresses the ball and strikes it full of confidence. He has good course management skills. If he stays healthy, he could also make a run at KIAC Player of the Year honors."
Cameron Cox, sophomore
Cameron was a regular in the Red Wolves' lineup and finished his freshman season with an 18-hole average of 87.1.
"Cameron is due to break out this spring season," Coach Ebeling says. "In the fall, he nearly shot par on two occasions. He possesses strong mechanics and is a smart player. His score of (a final round-best) 74 in the final round of the KIAC Tournament last year nearly put us in a position to be the tournament runner-up. He generally plays unfazed by the elements and has a solid intellect for the game."
Levi Gough, sophomore
Levi played in all of the Red Wolves' spring events as a freshman and was fourth on the team with 18-hole average of 86.2.
"Levi complements his teammates well. He is an amusing and entertaining person who helps keep the team lighthearted," Coach Ebeling says. "On the course, he generally doesn't make too many risky mistakes. He hits the ball consistently straight off the tee and knows how to get himself out of trouble when he has to. He will be looked to in each match to rise up and keep us in the running for team championships."
Drew Houck, sophomore
Drew is the reigning IU East Champions of Character award winner and averaged 88.0 strokes per 18 holes as a freshman.
"Drew is a player who will have to push the others to play better," Coach Ebeling says. "We need him to play well enough each match to bring in a good score in case one of his teammates has an off day. He is an extremely hard worker. With each intercollegiate match he plays, he seems to gain more quick insight as he strategizes. He has steadily worked to acquire the skills needed to help our team."
Conner Pope, sophomore
Conner proved he could shoot in the 80s in intercollegiate action when he played in the IU East lineup at the CCU Spring Invitational.
"Conner will be looked at to be ready to fill a starting spot with a minute's notice," Ebeling said. "Our team needs him to embrace this role and continue to work hard. He has the capability to help the team and is clever enough to make his shots work."
Von Ebeling, head coach
Coach Ebeling is in his fourth year as head coach of the IU East men's and women's golf teams. IU East's golfers have earned seven all-conference awards, 10 academic all-conference honors and two national Champions of Character team awards during Coach Ebeling's tenure.
THREE STORYLINES TO WATCH
* Charting new courses: The non-conference schedule takes the Red Wolves to new courses against new opponents. IU East will compete in Millikin University's Big Blue Spring Opener and Capital University's Purple & White Invite for the first time.
* Experience matters: IU East sent all-freshman lineup to several events during the 2011-12 school year. The Red Wolves now reap the benefits with a roster filled with college-tough players who are prepared for almost any situation.
* Up for grabs: Expect a close race for the KIAC title. Brescia is the four-time defending champion, but four teams - Brescia, Asbury, IU East and KIAC newcomer Point Park - received at least one first-place vote in the KIAC preseason coaches poll.
THREE EVENTS TO WATCH
March 28 and 29 at the Berea College Spring Tee-Off - This two-day, 36-hole event will bring most of the KIAC's top teams together for the first time this spring. Reigning KIAC champion Brescia headlines the field, but fellow KIAC contender Asbury won the team title when the KIAC's top teams got together at Berea in the fall.
April 18 and 19 at the Cincinnati Christian University Spring Invitational - It's another chance for the Red Wolves to go 36 holes against the other KIAC contenders. The Red Wolves finished second at CCU's fall event and look to jump up one spot in the spring event.
April 29 and 30 at the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships - A fast start is key as IU East goes for its first KIAC title since 2008. The Red Wolves were basically even with KIAC champion Brescia over the final 36 holes of the 2011 conference tournament, but couldn't overcome a 12-shot deficit following the first round. Coach Ebeling calculates that the IU East players will have about 25 collegiate rounds under their belts before the conference tournament, and the Red Wolves will call on that experience in the biggest meet of the season.
THREE MILESTONES IN REACH
* No IU East team has finished with a spring "winning record" (achieved by finishing ahead of more than half of all tournament opponents over the course of the season). This IU East team could be the first.
* Look for IU East's players to make a run at the program records for best individual and team averages. IU East's 2012 spring scores were inflated by two 36-hole events held under extreme weather and course conditions. The Red Wolves likely will post lower numbers this spring.
* IU East could produce its first representatives at the NAIA Men's Golf National Championship. The team champion and the individual medalist at the KIAC Championships advance to the national meet May 14-17 in Salem, Ore. The Red Wolves should contend for team and individual honors at the KIAC tournament.
RED WOLVES IN THE RANKINGS
4th - IU East's ranking in the KIAC men's golf preseason poll.
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