To those outside the program, the 2011 Washington and Lee golf team may appear to be rebuilding. The Generals graduated three of their top five golfers, all of which played a major role in two conference titles and a pair of impressive showings in the NCAA Division III Championship.
Those people on the inside believe that W&L may be simply reloading – it just needs to find its new identity.
"We have some talented golfers, but they need to prove to themselves and the rest of the conference what they are capable of doing," said Head Coach Gavin Colliton. "Overall, I think we have a pretty good shot, better than I had originally thought. Our top players are pretty good and we just need some other guys to step up."
"I expect them (Gavrich & Anthony) to really be our guys and give us a chance at each tournament," said Colliton. "They have been consistent from tournament to tournament, but they do need to improve on being consistent from round to round. They've got to eliminate that one bad round that's out there."
Gavrich has been a staple in the Generals' lineup since his rookie season, improving his scoring average every year. He has averaged 77.3 strokes over 59 career rounds, including a career-best 75.0 strokes over 10 rounds this fall when he won the Virginia Intercollegiate Championship with a four-under par 140 at Wintergreen.
"Tim has really accepted his role as the team captain and he's done a great job of setting a really good example," said Colliton. "As for his play, he's been pretty consistent, he just needs to stop thinking so much about each shot and just play – that's when he's at his best."
Like Gavrich, Anthony has also been a regular for the Generals over the course of his career, averaging 78.3 strokes over 39 career rounds. He has also improved his average every year and averaged 77.3 stokes over 10 rounds this fall. He also fired a top score at the Virginia Intercollegiate in October, finishing second behind Gavrich with a level par score of 144.
"Wilson has been really good over his first three seasons and he is a quality guy," offered Colliton. "He just needs to be a little more consistent and keep that large score at bay. I think he'll benefit from knowing that he's one of the guys that we are relying on to provide a top score each round."
Colliton believes that sophomore Will Hatfield can provide the Generals with a "keeper" score on a consistent basis after a solid fall. Hatfield did not play as a first-year, joining the team this fall and averaging 79.0 strokes across eight rounds played.
"Will is a real bulldog on the course -- a grinder," said Colliton. "He never quits on a hole or a round. He's not the guy that's going to wow you with how he hits the ball, but he's mentally tough and that 'never say die' attitude serves him well."
Colliton considers a number of the Top 5 spots up for grabs and qualifying play over the last few weeks before the spring season begins will determine the final few positions. He believes that seniors Rand Potter and Tom Bowden, sophomore Rob Claxton and first-years Jack Cottrill, Jake Struebing and John Torell will fight it out for the remaining tournament positions.
Potter has competed sparingly over his first three seasons, posting an 82.0 average over 11 career rounds. However, Colliton believes that he is ready to offer a larger contribution in 2011.
"We need senior leadership and some good scores out of Rand this year," he said. "He has played in one to two tournaments every year and they always seem to be the toughest tournaments, but he has the ability to compete and provide us with some good scores. He can hit the ball as well as anyone on our team, but we need for him to break through and compete out there."
Bowden returned to the team this fall after a two-year layoff. He played two rounds as a first-year, averaging 81.0 strokes per round.
"Tom is a great leader and he is involved in quite a bit around campus," said Colliton. "He is one of those 'lead by example' guys that every team needs. He always gives maximum effort and he's focused on competing for us this spring."
Claxton played just one round during his rookie campaign, logging a solid score of 74 in the Buck Leslie Challenge. Again, Colliton believes the talent is there to provide the Generals with consistent scores.
"I think that Rob just needs to get out there and play and he'll be just fine," noted Colliton. "He is a very talented player and I think that he will continue to show us more with the more he plays."
Cottrill and Torell both started their rookie campaigns strong, finishing as the team's top two at the season-opening Bridgewater Invitational in September. However, both faded as the fall progressed and will need to bring better focus during the spring season. Cottrill averaged 79.8 per round, while Torell posted an 81.8 average. Struebing saw action as the fall progressed, notching an 81.3 average over four rounds.
Colliton offered that he is "comfortable with any of these guys" and that he just wants "for them to compete".
"We need for John to get into that early season form and he can't be satisfied with one good round – we need a complete tournament from him," said Colliton of Torell. Of Cottrill he noted "Jack is in the same boat, he has been up and down and consistency will be key. He has a really good short game, but he needs to maintain his focus."
Colliton added that Struebing is "a grinder with talent and the will to succeed – he just needs to prove himself."
Though he has a few question marks entering the spring season, Colliton is happy with where his team is when effort and focus is a given.
"We are already several days ahead of where we were last year because the weather has been good and has allowed us to actually get out and play earlier this year," said Colliton. "The guys are prepared and focused. We may not have as much pure talent and experience as some of our recent NCAA-caliber teams, but I think this team may be more mentally-tough than some of the others."
As always, the Generals will be battle-tested come ODAC Championship time in April. Each of the spring tournaments features several of the Top 15 teams in Division III and Colliton believes that the experience of playing in tournaments like the Huntingdon College Invitational, Pine Needles Invitational and Camp Lejeune Intercollegiate will serve his inexperienced bunch well.
"I want to know how we stack up and playing a schedule like this will prepare us for some pressure situations we are likely to face at ODAC's," said Colliton.
The spring season begins on February 21-22 at the Huntingdon Invitational held at the Wynlakes Golf & Country Club in Montgomery, Ala.