It was one year ago when a Georgia Northwestern golf program, fresh off a year's hiatus, traveled to Penn State University to compete in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) Men's National Championship not really knowing what to expect.
The team, comprised of all first-year Bobcat players and headed by then-first year coach Eddie Jackson, finished the first round in third place just, just five shots out of the lead.
A hot start in the second and final round of the tournament had the Bobcats sitting in first place overall with just nine holes to play, but the young squad ran into some trouble on the back nine and had to settle for a fourth-place overall finish at 616 (303-313).
Now, a little older and a little wiser, Georgia Northwestern will fly back to State College, Pa. on Saturday looking to make amends and perhaps capture the program's first-ever national golf title.
"We're cautiously optimistic," Jackson said on Friday. "We've had a good week of practice. We had a very tough tournament our last time out and we didn't get a favorable draw there, as we had to start on the toughest four holes of the course. But we do have a pretty favorable draw coming up at Penn State. The guys have played well this week and the weather is looking good up there, so we're thinking we've got a shot at it."
Georgia Northwestern returns two of its five team members from last year in sophomores Lane Strickland and Cole Roberts. Strickland shot rounds of 77 and 81 a year ago, while Roberts opened with a 76 and finished with an 86.
Jackson said their experience would be invaluable.
"They've already talked to our other three golfers about how the course plays and that will be a big key for us and how well we do," Jackson continued. "Hopefully they'll both play well."
The new members of this year's team include freshmen Noah Hankins, Spencer Alexander and Ryan Redd.
Georgia Northwestern will also see some familiar faces in the form of the top three finishers from a year ago.
SUNY-Delhi won the national title last year with a total score of 604. The Broncos shot 309 in the opening round, but shot a 295 in the final round - the fourth-lowest round in tournament history - to complete the comeback. Cleary University of Michigan was second last year with a 609 (298-311). The Cougars led the team standings by three shots after the first round last year. St. Mary's of the Woods College from Indiana, who was second after the first round a year ago, finished third overall at 611 (301-310).
"Cleary is a very good team and they really impressed me last year," Jackson said. "SUNY-Delhi also brings a lot of players back. I'm not sure about the rest of the teams in the field, but the tournament is completely maxed out. There's a 120 players with 25 teams and other individuals competing, so it's going to be tough."
Jackson said his team has been focusing on shoring up its short game in the days leading up to Nationals.
"We've worked really hard on our short game and we've been charting stats all year long," he explained. "When we are chipping and putting well, we're a really good team. When we're not, we're having trouble scoring, so we put a big emphasis on that in the past week.
"But we're ready to get on that plane. Three of our guys have never been on a plane before and they're looking forward to it, so we're all excited. We're ready to get there and see what happens."
The tournament, which will be held on Penn State Blue Course, will begin with a shotgun start at 9 a.m. on Monday. The second and final round will begin at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.