Coming off an NCAA Southeast Regional appearance in the spring of 2016, expectations were high for the Lander golf program entering the fall.
The Bearcats met those expectations over the first half of the 2016-17 season. Now, as the spring portion of the schedule begins, Lander look to make a return to the postseason.
"We did everything but win in the fall," said head coach Chipper Bagwell. "We've got some really fantastic stats. We're tied for third in the country in scoring average in Division II, best in the Peach Belt, and we've got individuals who are ranked up there in the country. It's an exciting time and hopefully all that momentum from the fall will carry over to the spring."
Despite having no team victories during the fall, the Bearcats impressed during their four tournaments. Lander finished in the top-five of every event and ended the fall with a No. 13 national ranking in the Golf Coaches Association of America (GCAA) coaches poll.
"I think it's exciting," Bagwell said of the ranking. "I've been talking to our team about it. We've worked really hard over the last year and a half to get our team to this point."
The Bearcats will rely on seniors Jordan Ainley (Hampshire, England) and Michal Pospisil (Unhost, Czech Republic) to set the tone for the spring. Ainley is a captain, while Pospisil led Lander in the fall with a 70.08 average. The rest of the roster features juniors Garrett Atkinson (Toronto, Canada) and James Bartlett (Brockenhurst, England); sophomore Michael Brodie (Perthshire, Scotland) and Chris Kendall (Cumbria, England); and freshmen Roberto Garagorri (San Sebastian, Spain), Jon Parker (Greenwood, S.C.) and Conor Richards (Hampshire, England).
"It really helps to have the three freshmen coming in," said Ainley. "They've pushed everyone and have made qualifying more competitive."
Lander begins the spring season in Fleming Island, Fla., for the Spring Kickoff Invitational on Feb. 13-14. Two weeks later, the Bearcats head to Savannah, Ga., for the Pirate Spring Invitational on Feb. 27-28, hosted by PBC rival Armstrong State.
March features trips to Valdosta, Ga., for the Southeast Invitational on March 11-13, and the Bobcat Invitational in Eatonton, Ga. on March 20-21.
Lander hosts the Bearcat Golf Classic in Greenwood on March 27-28.
The regular season ends in St. Augustine, Fla., for the Peach Belt Championship from April 14-16.
For Bagwell, each event is an opportunity to continue the momentum that was established in the fall.
"I've always talked to them about being consistent," Bagwell said. "I've always told them we have finish top-five week in and week out and the rest will take care of itself. The big thing is getting into the regionals. If you don't make the regionals, you feel like you've had a disappointing year."
"We know the ability of our team," said Ainley, "we know it's there. The goal for us is nationals. Everyone believes we can make it that far."