GSW golf coach Andrew Danna
CONOVER, N.C. — The Georgia Southwestern Hurricanes have already marched into uncharted territory this season.
The only question left: How far can they go?
The No. 19 Hurricanes begin their quest for a national title today when they tee off in regional competition at Rock Barn Golf & Spa in Conover, N.C., where they will need a Top 5 finish to advance to the Division II finals May 15-19 at The Cardinal Club in Simpsonville, Ky.
So, how far can the Hurricanes go?
Second-year coach Andrew Danna says the sky is the limit.
“I really believe that based on their work ethic the last couple of weeks, that they have the ability to make a run at a national title,” Danna said. “And there is no doubt in my mind that they truly want it.”
Former Lee County star golfer Nate Gahman believes his Hurricanes can play with anybody right now.
“I’ve wanted the opportunity to play for a national championship the last two years, and I finally get it my junior year,” Gahman said. “We have worked as hard, if not harder than anybody. We want it. We want it really bad.”
Gahman is one of five Hurricanes who will be teeing off today alongside North Alabama and Wingate. GSW is lead by senior Craig Gibson, whose scoring average of 72.64 is the 25th lowest in the nation, while Christopher Hall, J.P. Griffin and Travis Oestmann top off the team’s lineup.
“If we can put four scores together and play like we can, anything can happen,” said Gibson, who individually advanced to regionals as a sophomore and placed in the Top 40. “I have never experienced a tournament of this magnitude as a team. It will be fun, and it will be interesting to see how we react as a team.”
The Hurricanes began the season with a bang, winning three of their first four tournaments and quickly ascending to No. 1 in the nation at golfstat.com and No. 10 in the Golf World/NIKE Coaches Poll.
It was an incredible rise to the top for a program that had never been ranked inside the Top 100 before Danna arrived.
“It’s an extremely gratifying feeling knowing that our team has come this far from where we were,” Danna said. “And now we have a chance to play for a championship.”
GSW’s climb was followed by some hiccups — an 11th place finish in the Southeastern Collegiate tournament on March 13, an 11th place finish in the Bobcat Invitational on March 20 and a disappointing sixth place in the Peach Belt Conference tournament on April 10.
“I think it is extremely difficult to sustain such a high level of play in golf in general, much less in college golf,” Danna said. “I do feel like my guys have played well over the course of the year and have played well to keep us going past the conference tournament.”
Because of the team’s rough spring, the Hurricanes weren’t sure they would qualify for the regional tournament and had to wait several weeks for the NCAA to decide their fate.
“That wait was the worst,” Gibson said. “It was tough because we didn’t play as well as we could have in the spring, which kind of put us down in the dumps before we got that phone call.”
The Hurricanes will compete against 20 other teams from around the Southeast and will need to beat 15 of them to see their season continue. Thirteen of those 20 teams are ranked inside the Top 25, including GSW’s opening-round playing partners North Alabama (No. 4) and Wingate (No. 23).
“There’s not a doubt in my mind that our regional field will be tougher than the finals,” Danna said.
But his players are ready for the challenge.
“We have beaten every team in the regional at some point during the season,” Gahman said. “We just have to be consistent and see if we can’t all click at the right time. We just have to prove to ourselves that we can do it. We can hang with the big dogs. We proved it in the fall, so we just have to get back up there.”
Gibson admitted that placing in that Top 5 will be tough.
“We are playing against the best teams in the nation in Division II,” said Gibson, who plans on turning pro in the fall. “I fell very comfortbale the national champion will come out of our regional. I think a realistic goal for us is to be between sixth and 10th. There is no doubt that we can finish in the Top 5 because we proved that we can beat these guys. We are coming off a slump, so maybe this is our time to shine. You never know.”