Golf teams look to improve on successful fall seasons

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Prior to the start of the fall semester, Occidental Athletics announced that men’s and women’s golf head coach Andrew Larkin would be leaving the position for the men’s golf assistant head coach vacancy at UCLA. As head coach, Larkin brought talented players into the program and saw them develop into savvy competitors. His replacement, head coach William Morris, looks to guide the Tigers to top spots both in SCIAC and the nation.

On the men’s side, co-captains Colton Bares (junior) and Cameron Connor (sophomore) look to turn preseason records into regular season success. At the 2015 Blazer Invitational in East Longmeadow, Mass., Bares, Connor and first years Will Mansfield, Sam Miller and Jack Peden beat out 20 other teams. Bares and Mansfield shared medalist honors, both shooting 6-over 146 for the 36-hole event. As a team, the Tigers put together rounds of 297 and 298 on Saturday and Sunday respectively. The 297 was the lowest single round score in team history.

Mansfield, Miller, Peden and first year Cole Warner join Bares, Connor and sophomores Dylan Jirsa, Danyaal Waheed and Ryan Volta on the men’s squad. Morris is looking for the small group of eight to build on their strong fall season and challenge for a top spot in SCIAC.

Bares expressed his excitement about the upcoming season, particularly after the first years gain experience on the courses around Southern California.

“I’m really excited with where the team is headed,” Bares said. “Watching the first years shoot the scores that they did at their first big event was huge not only for this season but also the future. This is probably the most excited I’ve been about golf at Oxy.”

The transition from Larkin to Morris has not been the easiest, according to Bares, but having Swing Coach Joe Cano remain on the staff has been crucial in easing the change. Under Morris, practices are not as structured, which provides the players with freedom to work on specific aspects of the sport at their will. This is, however, a stark contrast with the regimented practices run by Larkin.

“A lot of times, we’ll talk with Joe about what we did in the past that worked well that can help us going forward,” Bares said. “Having him around has been huge in switching coaches [from Larkin to Morris].”

Bares reveled at the chance to put together a great season. While finishing first overall in the conference may be out of their reach this season, Bares asserts that the future is bright for Occidental men’s golf.

“Next year the first years will have gotten the necessary experience and they’ll know what to do,” Bares said. “We may not be able to get past Claremont [Mudd-Scripps] or [California Lutheran] this year, but maybe next year and the year after we can compete for the top spot. Even after I graduate, these guys will have the foundation for a fantastic team.”

On the women’s side, co-captains Kristin Oberiano (senior) and Ella Inman (senior) hope to use this upcoming season as not only a learning experience for the first years but as a legitimate opportunity to challenge the SCIAC leaderboard in their final year.

“We may not be able to win the conference this year, but we can certainly finish second,” Oberiano said. “Building confidence for the future is also really important this year because we have four first years.”

Oberiano acknowledged that the coaching change caught her by surprise. She did, however, assert that there is potential in the women’s team.

“This season was supposed to be the big season under Larkin,” Oberiano said. “But we can still compete and provide the first years with a chance to grow. But equally so, I’d want to be able to teach the first years to play to their strengths. There’s definitely a new team dynamic this year, so we want to be able to ease them into the program while staying competitive.”

Morris, also an associate head coach for the men’s basketball team, took over as head coach of the golf teams in August. He had nothing but praise for the excellent plays from both teams during the fall, citing the scoring records on both the men’s and women’s sides. He also mentioned the teams’ successes at the SCIAC Match Play Invitational presented by Swingbyte, during which the program defeated Pomona-Pitzer and Chapman.

Morris acknowledged the newly constructed putting green and practice facility just outside of Rush Gymnasium as key for both teams to build upon their preseason successes.

“One of the disadvantages golf has is the fact that we [have to] play off campus,” Morris said. “The new facility gives us an opportunity to practice even when we can’t get off campus due to someone not having a car or what have you. There’s never an excuse to not do something.”

The men’s team finished fourth in their opening event of the season, SCIAC #1 at Morongo Golf Club in Beaumont, Calif. In conditions where even-par 72 would have been a phenomenal score, according to Bares, the Tigers beat out Chapman, La Verne and Pomona-Pitzer. The women’s team will travel to Morongo Golf Club to open their season at SCIAC #1 on Feb. 20.