Sunday May 12, 2013

It's been a long wait for the Williams College men's golf team. For the first time since 2008, the Ephs will tee it up in the NCAA Division III Championship tournament on Tuesday in Destin, Fla.

If the Ephs can just pick up where they left off on the 18th hole at Trinity College in the NESCAC Tournament on April 27, it could be a very good week. Trailing the host Bantams heading to the final nine holes despite playing its best 27 holes of the season, Williams kept it close before performing a Houdini act on the par-5 finishing hole to escape with the victory and earn the conference's lone NCAA berth.

"Going into the back nine, I had a feeling that we were down a couple of shots," said first-year coach Josh Hillman. "I gave each of my players a pep talk at the turn to try and give them some motivation."

Message received.

"At the turn, we weren't entirely sure of where we stood," said junior Cody Semmelrock, who earned his first collegiate win with rounds of 73 and 70 on the par-71 Shuttle Meadow Country Club course. "It seemed like coach needed us to grind it out. He was keeping us informed while at the same time not pushing us too hard. He did a very good job of helping us keep our heads together."

Then, with Trinity no doubt tasting victory and Williams' single-minded season goal of making it to the NCAAs on the line, the Ephs produced some golf magic to win by two shots and make a Bantams win disappear.

"We played the 18th hole 3-under and I think they were a couple over," Semmelrock said of the clutch finish.

Hillman said his team, which finished with a season-best 36-hole total of 592, picked up six to eight shots on the final nine.

"I can't tell you how proud I am of this group of guys," said Hillman, who took over this winter after longtime coach and Taconic Golf Club head professional Rick Pohle retired following a strong fall season. "They played their hearts out and kept calm when things didn't look good."

Joining No. 3 man Semmelrock in Florida will be the same lineup that pulled out the NESCAC win -- No. 1 Jake Goldenring, No. 2 Dylan Dethier (a Mount Greylock Regional High School graduate), No. 4 Matt McCarron and No. 5 Jake Abrahams. Goldenring is a sophomore while the others are juniors.

Hillman is quick to point out that for pairing purposes the players have to be ranked, but "quite honestly, they are all No. 1s."

Indeed, they have all stepped up at different times to lead the team.

"We don't have any superstars," Semmelrock said. "Our strength is that any one of us can go low on any given weekend. Five of our top six players have won tournaments."

None of the team's four seniors, including co-captains Jack Ervasti and Wyatt Sparks, who have made major contributions to the team, will be on the course in Florida.

"The seniors have been so supportive," Hillman said. "They know the best team is playing. That's the thing about the Williams athlete. They are class acts all around. That's something I am learning more and more the longer I am here."

The seniors aren't the only ones missing.

"Coach Pohle did a great job in putting this team together and preparing it for the spring," said Hillman of his longtime mentor.

Semmelrock, who missed the fall season while studying in Scotland, says the transition to Hillman has gone well.

"From what I heard, Coach Pohle did well with the team in the fall," he said. "When I met Josh in January, he was very enthusiastic and fully committed to getting us ready. It's been a phenomenal spring. We came within one shot of winning all [five] tournaments. He's done a great job."

With one job left for all the Ephs, who aren't lacking confidence despite not being ranked in the top 25 in Division III.

"We've played well all spring, so there is no reason for us to not have high expectations," Semmelrock said. "We're going in there looking to make the cut and representing Williams well."

To contact Richard Lord:
rlord@berkshireeagle.com
or (413) 496-6236