Mississippi Gulf Coast's golf team won't be sneaking up on anybody this year. The Bulldogs finished second at the NJCAA Division II National Championship, and they're picked first as the 2017-18 tees off.
"Heading into this season, we've got a target on our back and everybody wants to beat us," coach Tommy Snell said. "Even though it's a preseason ranking, it still means something to us. It means people respect how good we are."
Gulf Coast starts the season at No. 1 in the Bushnell Golfweek NJCAA Division II Coaches Poll. It's the first time the Bulldogs have been in that position, and they begin defending the ranking Monday in the Wallace State Fall Invitational in Cullman, Ala.
The Bulldogs are coming off a season where they narrowly missed the first team national championship in school golf history but saw Colin Troxler win the first individual national championship in MGCCC history. Troxler has graduated and is playing at the University of Louisiana.
The Bulldogs saw a streak of nine straight region titles end last season but rebounded in Mesa, Ariz.
"It was extremely disappointing not winning state or region, but leading the national championship for 68 holes, finishing runner-up, beating those good teams, that put a little salve on the season," he said.
Snell returns four talented sophomores. Jackson Wedgeworth (So., West Jones/Soso) finished third at the national championship last year to win All-American First Team honors. He had four top-five and four more top-10 finishes last year and was also on the Ping All-Region Team.
"When they call him to the first tee, he's going to play well," Snell said. "He's a gamer. He's scrappy. He's not afraid to win. He could have won a national championship last year."
Logan Leary (So., Gonzales/Dutchtown, La.) joined Wedgeworth on the All-Region team. He won one MACJC regular-season event and had three top-five finishes.
Colby Blake (So., Parklane/Tylertown) had two top-five finishes last year,
"Colby Blake has made a vast improvement," Snell said. "He wasn't on the national championship tournament team, and this first tournament he qualifies No. 2, one shot out of first. Logan is as steady as a rock."
Colby Entriken (So., Hancock/Pass Christian), the other returning player, also had a top-10 result.
Wedgeworth teamed with talented freshman Brice Wilkinson (Madison Central/Madison) to lead an MGCCC team to fifth place at the prestigious Magnolia Amateur. Wilkinson finished tied for fifth in a field filled with NCAA Division I schools.
"Brice Wilkinson has national tournament experience," Snell said. "He played in the U.S. Junior. He played in the Southern Amateur at Pinehurst. That's stuff you just can buy, that kind of experience."
Other freshmen include Miles Jackson (Fr. Biloxi/Biloxi), Damien Dhossche (Fr. Madison Central, Madison), Graham Evans (Fr., Presbyterian Christian/Hattiesburg), Carter Nicholson (Fr., Pearl River Central/Carriere) and Kody Davis (Fr., Pascagoula/Pascagoula).
"Looking at my team playing every day, it's just a good solid team," Snell said. "There aren't any weaknesses. It doesn't mean we're going to play well every tournament, but we've got a good solid five starters."
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