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By Allen Moff | Staff writer
If the 2013-14 Kent State men's golf season ended today, it would be labeled a disappointment based on the lofty standards held by the perennial powerhouse.
But the good news for the Golden Flashes is, the season is really just beginning.
Postseason play opens today, when five-time defending champion Kent State travels to Indiana to compete in the Mid-American Conference Championships at Prairie View Golf Course in Carmel. If the 39th-ranked Flashes take care of business this weekend, then carry that momentum into the upcoming NCAA Regional event, no one will remember the four consecutive mediocre finishes they produced to close the regular season.
"I don't think anybody on our team, players or coaches, are happy with the results we've had the last three or four tournaments," said 36th year KSU mentor Herb Page, who is gunning for his 19th MAC title. "We don't make any excuses, it just hasn't been, by Kent State standards, an exceptionally good spring. We can debate why we haven't been more consistent and worry about it, but the bottom line is it's over.
"We've got a challenge ahead of us this week. I'm very positive about it."
After starting the year with a pair of runner-up finishes, the Flashes have failed to place higher than seventh in their last four events. Still, despite their recent struggles, Page still has ample reason to believe in a squad that's headed by two of the top players in the country -- seniors Corey Conners and Taylor Pendrith.
Conners was MAC tourney medalist and MAC Player of the Year as a sophomore, when he led Kent State to a school-record fifth-place finish at the NCAA Championships by placing fourth individually.
Fellow Canadian Pendrith then won the MAC title and was named Player of the Year as a junior last season.
Pendrith has continued his roll into this season, earning seven top 10s individually, while averaging a team-best 72.03 strokes per round.
"Pendrith has just had a breakout year," said Page. "He's had that consistent, All-American year, but without a victory. He has been our most consistent player."
Conners played brilliantly as expected early on in his senior season, capturing a pair of titles, but has just one top-10 finish in his last four events. His stroke average of 73.17 is solid, but is over one shot higher than last season.
"There's been some inconsistencies with Corey," said Page. "I know he's disappointed in his season, but we've had a talk and I told him it doesn't matter. We've got three tournaments left."
Fellow senior Kyle Kmiecik (74.62) was also a starter on the 2011-12 Kent State squad that qualified for match play at the NCAA Championships. He's also struggled with consistency issues of late, failing to crack the top 30 in his last five outings.
"Kmiecik played really well in the fall, but since then he's had good rounds then just an ugly round," said Page. "But these seniors have won three straight MAC championships. They're the heart and soul of the team that finished fifth in the nation two years ago. These guys have been through the wars, and I'm really confident that senior leadership will carry us this weekend."
Rounding out the lineup will be a pair of freshmen, Sebastian Bendsen and Josh Whalen.
Bendsen (76.65) finished fifth at the Robert Kepler Intercollegiate in Columbus on April 13, then slipped to 75th in the next event and had to reclaim his starting spot in a qualifier.
"He's resilient," said Page. "He got knocked down on the deck and got up, went out to (Windmill Lakes Golf Club in Ravenna) and shot a couple rounds in the 60s."
Whalen averages 75.39 in six events and carded rounds of 72 and 73 in KSU's last event, the Boilermaker Invitational.
"Whalen played really well in the fall, then didn't play very well in February and March. But he's played a lot better the last two weeks," said Page. "You can see his confidence growing."
Page wishes, though, that he had a more confident group heading into the postseason.
"When you get to the championship season, you want to be feeling good about yourself, feeling confident, and that comes with getting to the top of the leaderboard. That hasn't happened," said Page. "I think we've got to prove to ourselves that we are a championship team."
Page sees Toledo, Akron and Ball State as the primary threats at the MAC event, which is a 72-hole tournament that runs through Sunday.
"It's not a slam dunk. We're gonna have to play better than what we've been playing to win," said Page. "But I keep telling my guys what's happened (in the last four events) has no bearing on what we do this weekend. We've got everything ahead of us. This still could be the best team I've ever had. What matters is what you do at the end of the season."
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