SANTA CLARA, Calif. - It was a tale of two seasons for the Santa Clara men's golf team and it will most likely be remembered for the way it ended rather than the way it began. As the old saying goes, 'it's not how you start, it's how you finish'.
There was much anticipation in the fall with a highly-regarded incoming freshman class making its debut and the first-year players responded by playing at a high level.
The Broncos opened the fall season with a seventh place finish at the Itani Quality Homes Collegiate that included a 291 team score in the final round. The much heralded freshmen class all participated and had outstanding final round scores. Gio Gandionco had his best round of the season with a 2-under-par 70 while Drew Miller also carded a 70. Carlos Briones shot an even-par 72 and Martin Keskari was the team's top finisher at 19th after shooting a final round 74.
Two weeks later at the Saint Mary's Invitational the Broncos had their best finish of the season coming in fifth after a second round 287 and a third round 294. The Querencia Cabo Classic was shortened to a single round due to weather and Santa Clara managed a seventh place tie with a 306 then ended the fall by shooting a 35-under 829 with scores of 282, 274 and 273 for an eighth place finish at the SCVB Pacific Invitational
"We were obviously all encouraged with the fall," said eighth-year head coach Robert Miller. "We had four tournaments were we had four freshmen and two juniors playing. All six (players) were getting to play just about every event and that was the idea knowing we had a talented freshman class coming in to get them experienced and get them out playing right away and put them to the test. They performed very well."
But as the season progressed, the injuries mounted and with a roster that consisted of only seven players to begin with, it became increasingly difficult for the Broncos to field a competitive team.
"It's one of those things you don't really expect in golf," said Miller about the rash of injuries that depleted his roster. "That's not unusual to have an injury, but it is unusual to have three and that's one of the risks you take when you have a smaller group like we had this year with only seven players."
During the spring season the Broncos were stretched so thin due to the variety of injuries that in two events they competed with only four players and in several other events a fifth team member was battling an ailment just so the team could field five players. "We were disappointed with the winter and spring, it didn't work out," said Miller. "We got the injury bug and at one point we had three guys injured and one out with a virus and we couldn't even field a team. A lot of times we were out there with four players going against five."
When the likelihood of team success vanished due to injuries in the spring, Coach Miller switched his focus to individual play and growth rather than team results. "We just did the best we could to keep the guys that were healthy out there getting experience," Miller said. "We tried to keep them focused on their individual play and not worry about the team performance because we knew we weren't going to be competitive."
The prized recruits played a lot of golf over the course of the season, as was expected, and Coach Miller praised their development and tenacity through the course of a trying season. Gio Gandionco earned the respect of his coach. "Gio got to play in every event in the spring and it really helped him," Miller stated. "You can see his game improving with every tournament and at the end of the year he was playing fabulous. His last two tournaments were the best of the year."
Gandionco ended his season with a 17th place tie at the Wyoming Cowboy Classic and matched his best round of the season with a 70 on his way to a 13th place finish at the WCC Championship. "The way he progressed is what we're trying to achieve as a team," Coach Miller said of Gandionco. "Have consistent progress as far as our competitiveness, that's ideally what you want to see especially with a young group."
Coach Miller also applauded the early season play of Carlos Briones, who had the second-best three round scored of the season for the Broncos when he fired a 10-under-par 206 at the SCVB Pacific Invitational in just his third tournament. "He was thrown in there right away playing three events in the fall and had very good results until he got injured," Miller said. "He was able to establish that he can compete at this level. I think everybody understands that he's going to be a force on the team if he's healthy."
Drew Miller, a third member of the freshman class, also had a strong fall season before being shelved for a good portion of the spring with an injury. He scored rounds of 70, 72 and a season-best 68 for a 6-under 210 at the SCVB Pacific Invitational. "Drew got to play in the fall quite a bit and had some good results early before he got injured," Coach Miller said. "I think he gained some confidence from that and knows he belongs here and can compete."
Supplying veteran leadership on the team were juniors Scott Lowe and Bobby Monaco. They both played in a team-high 10 events over the course of the season and played consistent golf on a team that dealt with inconsistencies.
There were lessons learned from what Coach Miller called a disappointing season. He expects his players to adhere to a strict training regimen and also hopes for another stellar recruiting class to add depth to the squad.
"First of all the guys became focused on how important it is to maintain their training regimen," he said. "Taking care of yourself physically is a huge part of being able to compete. That's a good thing to get focused on as a freshman. We're also going to move to a nine-man team to give us a little more depth just in case we happen to have another freak year with all the injuries."
Collectively the Broncos didn't get it done, dealing with an assortment of injuries and ailments that left the squad scraping to just field a team. But individually the players made enough progress that next season can't get here soon enough.
"I think we're all disappointed that we didn't get to see what this team could do," Coach Miller said. "That disappointment will hopefully fuel them to be more focused next year."