Herb Page thought his Kent State golf team's disparaging depth problems were finally over.
A glaring lack of production from the lower end of the lineup plagued his Golden Flashes for the duration of last season, considered a sub-par year even though they captured the Mid-American Conference Tournament championship.
Page believed his depth dilemma had been put to rest last fall, when players throughout the lineup consistently contributed to a highly successful five-week stretch.
But inconsistent play by many of those same performers this spring has Page on pins and needles once again.
"Exactly what I thought was our strength last fall has turned around and become our weakness," said Page, whose Flashes tee off a pivotal three-week stretch this weekend at the Kepler Intercollegiate in Columbus. "We had five guys playing well in the lineup, and several others playing nearly as well that I couldn't find a spot for.
"Now we consistently have three guys playing great, but I'm getting minimal contributions from the No. 4 and 5 slots. That's putting a lot of pressure on our top three guys, and making it very tough for us to string three solid rounds together."
First, the good news.
Ben Curtis has followed up his MAC freshman of the year season with a sensational sophomore campaign thus far. He currently ranks second in the MAC in scoring (72.87) and 27th in the nation in the well-respected Golfstat Cup rankings.
Senior Todd Lancaster (14th in the MAC, 74.65) and freshman Jon Mills (17th, 75.20) have also played the sometimes spectacular and almost always steady type of golf Page constantly covets.
"Ben has been phenomenal, and Todd and Jon have been solid all year long," said Page. "I couldn't ask for much more out of those three ... they've kept us in good position in the district rankings this spring."
Now, the bad news.
Freshman Danny Sahl, who moved into the No. 3 slot after a spectacular fall season, is currently struggling. Well, actually that's an understatement: he shot a pair of 98s in the Flashes' last outing.
"Danny has a mechanical problem with his swing that we're currently trying to work out," said Page. "We're not giving up on Danny, because he's going to be a great player for us. But we can't afford to put him in the lineup right now."
Junior Rich Daugherty, who has been up and down all spring, has also been removed from this weekend's lineup.
"I'm disappointed that we haven't had anyone, either in practice or in matches, step up and rise to the challenge," said Page. "We have several players capable of shooting the same scores our top three players have, but they haven't proven it yet this spring."
Page will fill the holes in his lineup at the Kepler Intercollegiate with sophomore Scott Porter and walk-on Randy Dietz, a true freshman who starred at Kent Roosevelt last season.
Porter was a regular in the lineup last year and finished seventh at the MAC Tournament.
"Scott won our qualifier and has worked his way back into the lineup," said Page. "We feel we don't lose a thing with him in there."
Dietz on the other hand was given little chance of ever cracking the Kent State lineup when he arrived on campus last fall.
"The last two weeks, Randy has literally went out and beat the scholarship players," said Page. "He's playing well and he has worked real hard, so he deserves a chance to play."
Page believes his squad deserves a berth in the NCAA Tournament, which eluded the Flashes for the first time in nine seasons a year ago. But he knows they'll have to prove it on the course the next several weeks.
"Right now we're still in pretty good shape district-wise, but there's a lot of golf to be played," said Page. The top three teams in the District IV (mostly Big 10 and MAC schools) receive NCAA bids. "We're going to find out what this team is all about in the next few tournaments."