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Youthful Eagles looking for leaders

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    If Georgia Southern golf coach Larry Mays had to choose one phrase to sum up how his Eagles will attack the 2007 season, it would probably be, “a case of the wants".
    In his seventh year, coach Mays has brought the Eagles a long way. Coming off of a disappointing fall, the Eagles look to use their young and developing talent to defend their 2006 Southern Conference title. After having lost five seniors to graduation, the team looks to build on internal competition and have leaders emerge in time for the 2007 SoCon Championship tournament in April.
    “We played a lot of guys in the fall, but Chris (Smith), Jordan (Johnstun), and Ryan LeFevre all held us in there while we were searching for that fourth scorer, before we got Bryan (Jones) back in there,” said Mays. “If one of those guys struggled then we were in trouble.”

New Additions
    The Eagles have brought in a plethora of new talent — talent which coach Mays hopes will help fill in the holes and complete the team. One new arrival of note is Drew Lethem. A junior college transfer, Lethem brings a ton of credentials, including the title of reigning Kansas State Amateur Champion. Last September, he was chosen to represent the USA in the World University Golf Games in Torino, Italy.
     “He has proven himself on every level to this point,” said Mays about Lethem. “He is an unknown commodity. He just can’t wait to get out there and prove that he can do it on this level as well.”
    Along with Lethem, the Eagles have brought in several others to help strengthen the team. Kyle Cothran, Logan Blondell and Joe Monte are all coming out of high school ranked in the top 40 according to the Golfweek/Titleist rankings for the 2007 class.
    “We are definitely a younger team this year. That showed early in the fall when we struggled with consistency. We played better at the end when we got Jones back from injury. We have a new group that doesn’t have a ton of experience. That can hurt you a stroke or two when you don’t need to lose a stroke or two.”
    Along with the newly acquired young talent, coach Mays feels that the Eagles’ brand new training facility — the Bennett-Ramsey Golf Center — will impact the current squad, as well as future GSU teams.
    “I think it is one of the finest practice facilities I have ever seen. We take great pride in that. It took a long time to get done but it was worth it. We can manufacture anything we want to and move pin placements wherever we want them. We can set up conditions exactly how we want them on our three holes. It is a private country club for our players only…In recruiting, we have a ‘wow’ factor now. Before, we weren’t in the ballgame with some of these players. Now we are not only in the ballgame, but we are winning those recruiting battles with Georgia, Georgia Tech, Florida, South Carolina Clemson — teams we weren’t even in the ballgame with before.”

Looking Ahead
    The Eagles return to the links on Saturday for the Gator Invitational in Gainesville, Fla. Competing teams include Coastal Carolina, Florida State, Georgia State, LSU, Ohio State, Tulsa, Central Florida, Florida, Kentucky, North Florida, Perdue, UAB, and Wake Forest.
    In preparation for the SoCon tournament in April, GSU will play six tournaments over the next three months — five of the host schools are Florida, Memphis, Coastal Carolina, Augusta State, and NC State. On March 17-18, Georgia Southern will host one of the biggest tournaments in NCAA Division I golf — the Schenkel E-Z-Go Invitational at Forest Heights Country Club in Statesboro. The teams competing in this year's event are Alabama, Tennessee, Arizona, Ohio State, Augusta State, LSU, Michigan State, NC State, North Carolina, Texas A&M, Georgia Southern, South Carolina, Auburn, Florida, Kentucky, Georgia, New Mexico and Minnesota.
    After the SoCon Tournament, the Eagles will attend one more Invitational before the NCAA Regionals begin on Wednesday, May 7th at the Golf Club of Georgia in Alpharetta.
    Coach Mays and his young team are optimistic heading into the spring portion of the 2006-07 season.
    “Everybody on the team got a chance to play in the fall,” says Mays. “They all got a taste of it — got their feet wet a little bit. Now they’ve had time to digest it. They’ve had three months to sit around and think, ‘That was fun. I’d like to go back to another tournament'. Now they get that case of the wants. They don’t want to be left at home.”
    The Eagles have a lot of work to do before the 2007 Southern Conference tournament. Teams on the rise like Chattanooga, UNC-Greensboro, Charleston, and Western Carolina all look to take the title GSU is working hard to defend.

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912)-489-9408.

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