Sun Devils' kiddie corps growing up fast (East Valley Tribune, May 15, 2008)

May 19, 2008

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Behind the Green: Sun Devils' kiddie corps growing up fast

When the Arizona State men's golf team recently pulled off a sizable upset by winning the Pac-10 championship, the prevailing wisdom was that Randy Lein had coached his way to an eighth conference title in 16 years at the ASU helm.

While it's true that Lein has done a solid job with a group of youngsters -- three freshmen and two sophomores -- winning the Pac-10 is not what it's all about when you coach at a golf powerhouse like ASU.

Don't believe me? I asked the coach if he would trade half of those Pac-10 titles for one more NCAA championship -- his team won it all in 1996 -- and before I could get the question out of my mouth, Lein said, 'Yes.''

'The Pac-10 tournament is important, but you're not remembered for winning the Pac-10,'' he said. 'You win the NCAA tournament, everybody remembers.''

That's what I like about Lein: He doesn't sugarcoat it. Most of the season his team has been ranked out of the top 20, and then it shows up at the conference tournament with the lofty ranking of No. 19 and upends No. 2 USC, No. 3 UCLA and No. 7 Stanford, even if it did take a one-hole playoff against the Trojans to get the job done.

'It was fun, that's for sure,'' Lein said of the surprise party that was made possible when his three freshmen -- Jesper Kennegard, James Byrne and Stephan Gross -- all came up big in OT.

Add that trio to sophomores Knut Borsheim and Braxton Marquez, a Scottsdale kid who led Scottsdale Community College to the NJCAA championship last year, and the Sun Devils have some punch this season. Which no doubt is the reason they have jumped up to No. 15 in the country on the eve of the NCAA West Regional at Bremerton, Wash.

'Am I surprised what they did (at the Pac-10 tournament)? I'm not sure,'' Lein said. 'The week before the Pac-10, UCLA had beaten us by 40 strokes (at the Stanford Intercollegiate), so I just figured UCLA might be the heavy favorite.

'But I am very excited about this group of kids we've got, because no matter what happens (the rest of the postseason), they're all returning next year.''

Now that is a big deal, because keeping your team together is a tough task in college golf, what with professional tours always looking more glamorous than a cheap apartment or a dorm room filled with books.

Lein definitely has assembled some talent with this bunch. Four golfers earned Pac-10 honors, led by Sweden's Kennegard, who was named to the first team. The other three international players -- Norway's Borsheim (second team) and Scotland's Byrne and Germany's Gross (both honorable mention) obviously can play.

'It's the best depth we've had in six or seven years,'' said Lein, who also has Tristan Bierenbroodspot and incoming freshman Chan Kim from Chandler Hamilton High School to push the team envelope in 2008-09.

Whether that translates into another NCAA title for Lein at some point remains to be seen. My guess is that if they make a splash this weekend at the West Regional, where ASU is seeded no better than 10th out of 27 teams, it will be telling. And if they are one of 10 teams to advance to the NCAA championship later in the month at West Lafayette, Ind., we'll know a whole lot more.

Asked if there was an outside chance his kiddie corps could win the whole thing, the tell-it-like-is Lein never held back.

'It's so difficult these days because there are so many good teams, and it all comes down to every player on that team playing well for that one given week when it counts,'' he said. 'And there are so many variables involved that anything can happen.

'Having said that, this team is getting better and better every week. ... Yeah, we could do it.''

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