By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Could the fourth time be the charm?
That is what Bluefield State golf coach Terry Brown hopes, as the Big Blues’ golf team begins play in the NCAA Division II Atlantic/East super-regional today at Oglebay Park Resort in Wheeling.
“We are a veteran team, we have played there many times and I think that experience factor is going to be key,” Brown said. “I think that is what is going to separate us from some of the other teams.”
It is Bluefield State’s fourth straight trip to regional play.
“They have been working up to this and now is time to put up,” Brown said. “You have got to get there first. This is it.”
The three-day event concludes on Wednesday with the top 3 teams out of the 20 involved earning a berth in the Division II National Championships on May 20-24 in Hershey, Pa.
“They want to make it to nationals,” Brown said. “They have prepared themselves as well as they could. I really think they are ready, both mentally and physically. I think they are as ready as they are going to be.”
Bluefield State narrowly missed out on its first trip to nationals last year, when a poor final two holes kept the Big Blues out of the top 5, which is the number of teams that were taken in 2012.
“What was disappointing last year is we were there,” Brown said. “We were in the top 5 going into 17 and 18 and we didn’t play 18 as well as we normally do. I think we had a couple of double bogeys that messed us up and I think we finished (seventh).”
Bluefield State, which won the Southern Regional and Roanoke Invitational last month, will be led by four seniors — Nick Dent (Greenbrier East), Chandler Beavers (Princeton), Jeff McGraw (Princeton) and T.J. Knight (Greenbrier East) — along with junior Tyler Browning (Man).
“We have got 10 players on the team, but those five will be representing us in the super-regional,” Brown said. “They are veteran players, I really think the experience factor is going to be key. I really think they are going to finish in the top 3, I really think they should.”
Both Dent — who calls Brown the Blues’ ‘go-to guy’ — and Beavers are All-WVIAC performers — while McGraw — who also earned the same honors — may have been the difference in helping the Blues return to regional play.
“He played very well in the Southern Regional. He has really made a major contribution to the team and he has made the difference in getting to the super-regionals,” Brown said. “Dent and Beavers and Browning have all played consistent and (Jeff) has stepped it up big. (Knight) has stepped up as well...
“(McGraw) has been the biggest surprise, he has made the biggest turnaround in the last month and a half for us.”
Bluefield State does have the advantage in terms of familiarity with Oglebay Bay, with all the Blues having played there at the high school and college levels.
“It is a beautiful course, our guys really have played well there, even in high school they played for the state championships,” Brown said. “Those guys have played that course...
“It is tough, it is very, very hilly, you can make mistakes and you will pay dearly. You have got to be on target with your drives. That course is not friendly for people that have erratic drives.”
Not only is Oglebay Bay known for extremely tight fairways and tricky greens — similar to Fincastle Country Club in Bluefield — but the weather is as unpredictable as it is in this part of the state.
“The weather up there, as many times as we have played, has always been terrible,” Brown said. “It has rained, the wind is blowing, it is snowing, it has always been very adverse conditions.”
Brown did hear a forecast late last week that was promising, but who knows how long that will last.
“I talked with the people there (Thursday), they are forecasting probably 60 to 65,” Brown said, “but they assure me it can change on a moment’s notice because up there it has always been that way.”
The fact that Oglebay is similar to Fincastle could also be an advantage to the Big Blues.
“We use Fincastle and Fincastle has been fantastic, it is a course that is challenging,” Brown said. “It is more like some of the courses that we play in the conference, and it has really helped us in the preparation.
“We are able to work on our short game there as well as off the tee. They have facilities there where we can work on the putting green and sand traps and driving range. Using that course has been big for us and that helps us prepare for our conference matches.”
Bluefield State has also been aided by Vic Sorrell, the former golf professional at Fincastle, who serves as an assistant coach for the Blues, and has been a key part of the improvement made by the program.
“Vic has been a major, major influence on the team and he has really helped the guys with their development,” Brown said. “He has really helped bring a lot of them along.”
No matter what happens this week, the future is bright at Bluefield State, where Brown said the Blues will reload with a “B” team that could be competitive now in the WVIAC.
They include J.J. McPherson (Princeton), Karsyn Terry (James Monroe), Blake Hash (Tazewell), Jordan Nelson (PikeView) and J.T. Lester (Chapmanville).
“We have a “B” team of players that I think will be good,” Brown said. “If we played today, I think they could finish in the top 6 or 7 of the conference.”
Bluefield State will be joined by Concord in Wheeling, with both schools seeking a berth in the Division II national tournament.
“That says a lot about golf right now because the two southern-most teams in the state are now representing the conference on the national level,” Brown said. “Anything can happen once you get there.”
—Contact Brian Woodson