OCU Stars rely on experience in quest for next NAIA Championship

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Oklahoma City University opens the 2015 spring season as the fifth-ranked squad in NAIA men’s golf and but is aiming for a higher finish than that.

OCU won or finished second in all seven of its tournaments last season including second in the Sooner Athletic Conference Championships and the NAIA Championships. The Stars finished four strokes behind NAIA champion Coastal Georgia in the national tournament at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla.

The Stars concluded the fall schedule with a win in the U.C. Ferguson Classic and third-place finishes in the Oklahoma Baptist Invitational, The Mid-South and the Johnson & Wales Dave Adamonis Sr. Invitational.

"We played average this fall, which is good and bad," OCU coach Kyle Blaser said. "As a coach you would like to see exactly how good you can be, but also as a coach you know there is so much room for us to improve and room for us to peak."

OCU returns four players from the five-man squad that finished runner-up in the NAIA last season. Anthony Marchesani, Matthew Cheung, Garrison Mendoza and Scott Verplank and all gained valuable experience in the national championship last season.

"I’m hoping we get some leadership," Blaser said. "Three of the guys we have returning are All-Americans. You’ve got three All-Americans and two you think will be All-Americans, it’s a good problem to have. They should bring experience to the table."

Marchesani, a junior from Rosebud, Victoria, Australia, is a two-time NAIA All-American who is looking to three-peat and be in contention for national player of the year. Marchesani shot 78-73-76-227 in the NAIA Championships. He finished second on the team with a 71.89 stroke per round average in the fall season.

Cheung, a sophomore from Brisbane, Australia, finished tied for seventh at the NAIA Championships and earned third-team NAIA All-American nods from the Golf Coaches Association of America and NAIA Championships all-tournament team. Cheung averaged 75.00 strokes per round in the fall.

Mendoza, a sophomore from Clinton, turned in a score of 70-77-76-223 in last season’s national championship while rolling in 10 birdies. Mendoza also collected third-team NAIA all-American honors last season and posted a stroke average of 72.67 in the fall.

Verplank, a junior from Edmond, made three birdies in three rounds of the national championship with a 78-73-76-224 final score. Verplank carded a 73.11 average score in the fall.

Issa Abou el Ela, Austen Fuller, Thomas Holtzman, Jett Johnson, Wyatt Robson and Sam Russell join the foursome from the national runner-up team as returners from last season.

Abou el Ela, a junior from Alexandria, Egypt, competed in one tournament in the fall where he finished fifth with a 67-71-70-208 with 16 birdies at the U.C. Ferguson Classic in Oklahoma City.

"Issa works really hard and is a long hitter," Blaser said. "He’s improved in his game and mentally since he’s been here. He needs to improve on his short game."

Fuller, a junior from Edmond, played in two tournaments with a 72.83 stroke per round average. Fuller finished the U.C. Ferguson Classic with a 70-71-71-212.

"Austen is consistent," Blaser said. "His scores are between 70-75. He’s really a grinder and keeps the ball in play."

Holtzman, a sophomore from Austin, Texas, saw action twice this fall in the U.C. Ferguson Classic and in The Mid-South in Newton, Kan. Holtzman pitched in a 76.33 average in the two tournaments.

"Thomas has a lot of talent and is a great player," Balser said. "He has a great resume and is a great student-athlete. He has to get the ball rolling his way and could be a really good player."

Jett Johnson played in all three fall tournaments for the Stars. Johnson finished the Oklahoma Baptist Invitational 74-74-148, which was good enough for 10th. He averaged 74.25 strokes for OCU in the fall.

"Jett looks really good right now and is competing hard," Blaser said. "He is leading our qualifying so we are going to get a chance to throw him out there and see what he’s about. He’s very team oriented."

Robson, a sophomore from Ada, competed in every even in the fall with a 78-74-74-226 finish in the U.C. Ferguson Classic. Robson averaged 79.75 stokes a round in the three competitions.

Russell, a senior from Eastbourne, East Sussex, England, finished in the top 20 in all three of the fall tournaments, his best being a 12th-place 71-73-73-217 at The Mid-South in Newton, Kan. Russell, who spent last season redshirting at OCU, averaged 72.55 per round.

"Sam is a very strong player, he had a great summer," Blaser said. "I recruited Sam thinking he would be an all-American and right now he is playing really well. He has more talent than he knows what to do with and he’s going to be a great player for us this year."


OCU adds Jay Cox, Brett Dixon and Jamie Warman to the roster this season.

Cox, a senior from Paris, Texas, played in all three tournaments and shot his best 71-75-146, seventh place finish at the Oklahoma Baptist Invitational in Shawnee, Okla. He shot 72.13 during the fall season.

"He’s really played well," Blaser said. "He has a lot of upside and he’s a fiery competitor. He works hard at everything he does. The sky is the limit for him."

Dixon, a sophomore from Trinidad, Colo., only played in the U.C. Ferguson Classic where he shot a 76-79-75-230. He averaged 76.67 strokes per round.

"Brett is a former baseball player and great student-athlete," Blaser said. "He works hard and everyone cheers for him. Once he focuses on golf I think he can be a good golfer. He’s an automatic team leader."

Warman, a senior from Perth, Australia, finished in the top-10 in both of the events he competed in, capturing the individual championship with teammate Marchesani at the U.C. Ferguson Classic. Warman shot a team-best 71.78 in the fall.

"I personally think Jamie was the top junior college player in the country," Blaser said. "He’s an outstanding player."

The Stars are set to begin their 2015 campaign Sunday in the Claud Jacobs Intercollegiate at Victoria Country Club in Victoria, Texas, as part of a field that contains six teams currently ranked in the top 25 and three receiving votes in the coaches’ poll.

"We’ve got all the pieces of the puzzle there," Blazer said. "It’s going to be so competitive with the kids that we’ve added and the kids we have. We’ve got tons of depth which is going to make us tougher and hopefully make us better."

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