- - Friday, June 1, 2012

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Some might be surprised that a lineup with just one senior and anchored by freshmen could reach the NCAA golf national championships.

Longtime Virginia Tech coach Jay Hardwick isn’t among them.

Hardwick, who guided the youthful Hokies to California this week, said he believes his team just lived up to its potential.

“Everybody kept calling us overachievers,” Hardwick said by phone from Pacific Palisades, Calif. “We didn’t feel like overachievers at all. I think we’re pretty good.”

His players agreed.

“I thought the team had a lot of potential,” sophomore Bryce Chalkley, a Richmond native and former St. Christopher’s standout, said Friday before boarding a flight back to Virginia. “It was very similar to last year’s team. Last year, we felt we underachieved by missing the national championships.”

The Hokies finished 24th at the NCAA national championships at Riviera Country Club on Thursday, shooting a three-day team total of 890, 38-over par.

It was the first time Hardwick, in his 29th season at Tech, had led the Hokies to the national championships since 2002.

The top eight teams (Alabama, UCLA, Texas, California, San Diego State, Washington, Oregon and Kent State) advanced to match play Friday to determine the national champion.

Illinois sophmore Thomas Pieters shot 5-under to win the NCAA individual title.

Tech’s two top performers were freshmen. Michael Vincent finished tied for 45th at 6-over par, while classmate Trevor Cone was tied for 77th at 11-over.

Chalkley and senior Blake Redmond were a shot back, tied for 89th.

“It was very difficult,” Chalkley said of the Riviera course. “There weren’t many birdies out there other than the par 5s. You really had to play smart.”

The Hokies also played short-handed. In college golf, teams use five players, then count the top four scores. Tech played the last round and a half without junior Mikey Moyers, who withdrew during his round Wednesday because of illness.

But like everything else this year, the Hokies handled it.

If Hardwick was surprised by anything this season, it was how quickly rookies Cone and Vincent took to the college game.

“The freshmen came on a little better than I expected,” he said. “Playing in the national championship, to get it all the way to the finals, when a lot of people didn’t think you could, what a confidence booster for these freshmen.”

For Cone, a Concord, N.C., native, a few strong rounds early on helped send him on his way.

“I didn’t really expect that much but then again, I just started playing well the first couple of tournaments,” Cone said Friday. “After the first few, I had the expectation to play better.”

And now, with four of their five starters returning for next season, and talented incoming freshman Maclain Huge of Middleburg Academy joining the squad, the expectation will be for the Hokies to perform better in 2013 and return to the national championships again, this time in Atlanta.

“We do lose our captain, who’s played a huge role on this team,” Chalkley said of Redmond. “Our two lowest scorers this year were freshmen. We probably have similar expectations to what we had this year. We should get to Atlanta.”

Read more about the Hokies at VTeffect.com



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