McEwen joins top Monmouth team

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

It’s a case of half empty or half full for the Monmouth College men’s golf team, which returns three players from last year’s Midwest Conference championship squad.

“We’re not ‘defending’ anything,” claimed coach Dave Ragone when asked about the defense of their title. “The roster changes from year-to-year, so we like to say we’re chasing a title and not ‘defending’ a title.”

The Scots have been successful in their chase five times in Ragone’s 10 years at the helm, including back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010. Ragone enters his 11th year with the most conference crowns of any golf coach in Monmouth College history.

Monmouth will have three experienced golfers from last year’s title-winners: senior Rodney Clayton (Plano, Ill./Plano), junior Sean McNamara (Monmouth, Ill./Monmouth-Roseville) and sophomore Brandon Kemerling (Peoria, Ill./Richwoods). Clayton and McNamara also gained national tournament experience last year in the NCAA tournament.

Clayton, the conference’s individual champion in 2010, enters his final spring season with a “wealth” of experience. The three-time all-conference selection posted a team-best 77.9 stroke average last season with five top 10 finishes. Ragone is counting on his lone experienced senior to be a steadying presence on a relatively young squad.

“He’s worked really hard over his career,” praised Ragone. “He’s banked all that experience and knowledge. Now, it’s his turn to lead the team as we chase another title.”

The senior leader will likely be joined by McNamara, Kemerling and junior Ben Olson (Oneida, Ill./ROWVA). The trio has a mixed bag of experience.

McNamara jumped onto the scene last season, firing a 74-76-150 to win the Prairie Fire Classic, marking his first collegiate medalist honors. Kemerling nearly set the Scots’ scoring record as a freshman. A late addition to the “B” team for the Augustana Invitational last spring, Kemerling made the most of his opportunity and turned in rounds of 72-67-139 to tie for the tournament medalist. His scores are second on the Scots all-time list for 18 and 36 holes. Olson, long off the tee, has been the odd man out in his first two seasons, but is expected to be a serious contender this spring.

“It should be a nice battle,” said Ragone of determining his No. 1 squad. “Obviously, Rodney is the main man, but it’s tight after that. Sean has really improved his game since his freshman year and had a great sophomore year.

“Brandon got experience as a freshman,” continued Ragone. “He just needs to be more consistent this year. He’s a solid all-around player. We’ve been grooming Ben for the last couple of years to be able to step right in. He had a great fall and was very consistent. This spring could be his time to blossom.”

The Scots also have another junior, a sophomore transfer and four freshmen who could be in the mix for significant playing time.

Like Olson, junior Trevor Robbins (Galva, Ill./Galva) has been paying his dues and could see 2011 as his breakout season. Kyle McEwen (Aledo, Ill./Aledo) spent one season playing juco golf before coming to Monmouth.

“Kyle is a nice addition,” said Ragone. “We recruited him out of high school, but he decided to go the junior college route for a year. He’s a very solid player, but like most, needs to be a bit more consistent. Trevor has worked hard and has earned a spot on the Spring Break trip.”

The four freshmen – Jared Johnson (Chillicothe, Ill./IVC), Ryan Suttles (Winchester, Ill./Winchester), Mike Olszewski (Cary, Ill./Cary-Grove) and Eric Farrell (Ottawa, Ill./Ottawa Township) – give Ragone plenty of contenders for the six conference tournament spots. The quartet had a “nice fall” and – like Robbins – earned a spot on the Spring Break squad.

“I feel like our team can shoot even par to 75 or 77,” said Ragone. “That’s kind of the benchmark for us to be competitive. We’d like to be in the 300 to 305 range in each tournament. We might not do that right out of the gate, but that’s our long-term goal.”

The Scots were slightly above that target last year, averaging around 313 over the course of 25 rounds. During the fall season, Monmouth played five competitive rounds. The Scots fired impressive scores of 297 and 298 in action at Galesburg’s Lake Bracken and their home course, Gibson Woods. Their average for all five rounds, which included two at Burlington’s Spirit Hollow and one at the TPC of Michigan, was 315.

If the Scots have intentions of bringing home the MWC crown and advancing to the NCAA tournament for the third straight year, they’ll have to rely on some untested players  

“It’s cyclical,” claimed Ragone when referring to his youthful team. “It seems like we go in three-year cycles. We get freshmen who step up as sophomores and compete for three years, then graduate and we’re young again. It’s no different this year. We just hope this group can have success as their predecessors did.”