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Jan 28, 2005

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                BOULDER-The University of Colorado men's golf team opens its spring season this Monday in Arizona, and veteran head coach Mark Simpson is as optimistic as ever heading into his 29th season at the reins of the program.


                The Buffaloes are one of 16 teams participating in the PING-Arizona Intercollegiate, which will take place Monday (36 holes) and Tuesday (18 holes) at the 6,900-yard, par 71 Arizona National Golf Club in Sabino Springs just outside of Tucson. 


                Simpson is taking CU's "fab four" junior quartet of Kenny Coakley, Edward McGlasson, Blake Moore and Derek O'Neill and freshman Shea Sena to Arizona to compete in what is traditionally one of the toughest early season tournaments in college golf.  There are four top 25 teams in the field, led by No. 4 New Mexico and No. 12 Arizona State, with eight in top 60 to be present; Colorado enters ranked No. 53 by Golfweek and No. 55 by GolfStat.


                "I'm feeling very confident about our team this year," Simpson said.  "We were without Derek last fall, and despite missing him, I thought we performed at the level I expected we would several times.  Now that he's healthy, it'll be a big plus for us and make us that much stronger."


                "So with a deeper team this spring, I'm expecting the level of our play to increase significantly," he said.  "I'm confident that by the end of the spring, we're going to have five guys on the travel team who are established quality Division I players.  I can't say that we're there yet, but the odds of us getting there are good, in my opinion.


                Simpson has been impressed with his team's preparation for quite some time now, and in fact, lists it as the Buffs' number on strength.               


                "Our attitude and work ethic is the best I've seen in a while, not that it's ever been terrible," he said.  "But certain players raise the level of the entire team's work ethic.  Kane Webber did that for us last year, and this past fall, there are at least three guys who really motivated the rest to make that kind of commitment.  Then (freshman) Derek Tolan arrived this semester and he has definitely raised the level even further in just two or three weeks by the way he practices."


                Simpson said experience is the next obvious strength of his team.  "We have four juniors in our starting five, at least as it appears now, and they all have invaluable experience," he said.  "Edward, Kenny, Blake and Derek have been through the fire as the saying goes, they've all played in big tournaments, and all have worked hard to improve every facet of their games.  But the experience is the key; once we get to the conference and NCAA's, they won't have that deer in the headlights, wide-eyed look because they've been there before and know mentally what it takes.   


                "It's going to be an interesting year, because I really feel that our No. 4 guy could be our No. 1 guy at any point this spring," Simpson continued.  "No one is head over heels over anybody else, but with several guys capable of winning a tournament, that's a good positive sign that we're deep in talent.


                The four juniors, as talented as they are, can't afford to become complacent, with sophomore Ryan Anderson, freshman redshirt Jim Grady and freshmen Shea Sena, Pat Grady, Stuart Ross and Tolan if an eligibility issue is cleared up that would free him to play this semester.


                "Shea did a nice job for us most of the fall, he's going where he needs to go and I'm expecting him to pickup his game where he left off last fall.  He's a gamer," Simpson said of Sena, who played in all four tournaments last fall.  "Plus, Ryan's progressing as well, as are the Grady brothers, and Stuart is acclimating to the States.  If Tolan becomes eligible, I see no reason why this can't become one of the deepest teams we've ever had at Colorado."


                Simpson sometimes declares his team's goals public, other times he's shied away.  This season, it's as bold as they come.               


                "My thought, and what I told the team, is that I didn't recruit them to finish second in anything," he said.  "Top ten, top five finishes are fine and good, but our goal is to win the national championship, win the Big 12.  I don't make any bones about it, and the team reacted the way I hoped when I said that and we had a good discussion as to what we would need to do to try and make one or both a reality.  Is it realistic?  I don't know and I don't care, because I think we're good enough to give it a shot."


                As for this weekend, he's no less confident in CU's chances.


                "This time of year, finishing in the top 10 is usually a good way for us to start things off, but to be honest, the weather has given us a break, so I think we've been able to get in as much practice as probably anyone else," Simpson said.  "I think we can compete for the title."