By Doug Gorman
When Clayton State golf coach Barry Harwell took over the Laker program two years ago, his goal was simple-get the team to the point where they were playing competitive golf, in and out of the Peach Belt Conference.
Winning a tournament or two wouldn't hurt either.
The Carrollton native, who has spent time on the PGA tour, has watched his team go from conference doormat to one of the best teams in NCAA Division II golf.
Wednesday the Lakers will show just how far they have come when they tee off at the NCAA Division II National Tournament at Memorial Park in Houston.
The Lakers, who are in the 20-team field for the first since 1999, and for just the second time in school history, have spent the year ranked in national polls.
That's something new for the Lakers too.
"We set goals at the beginning of the season," Harwell said by phone from Houston. "I don't want to sound cliché, but one of our goals was to go out and play consistent golf and see where that got us."
Clayton State received a huge lift to its team when Will Wilcox transferred into the program last season after starting his college career at Division I Alabama-Birmingham
Wilcox was the missing link for Harwell's growing squad.
The junior helped add to the Lakers' list of impressive accomplishments by winning the individual championship at the Peach Belt Conference Tournament earlier this year.
Wilcox continued to play solid golf at the combined Southeast/Atlantic Regional, turning in a fifth-place performance.
The Alabama-Birmingham transfer didn't act alone. Clayton State finished fourth overall at the regional tournament to earn its trip to Houston.
At the regionals, Jonathan Visconti finished tied for 24th overall with a 229 (75-79-75), while freshman Kevin Duncan (77-77-77) and sophomore Wade Binfield (73-80-78) each finished tied for 27th with a 231.
Harwell is hoping for another solid team effort now that the Lakers have realized their dreams of playing for a national title.
"Will has been on top of his game, but guys like Wade and Jonathan have turned in good performances too." Harwell said.
Clayton State set the tone for its successful season in the fall when it captured the team title in the Orchard Fall Invitational.
The Lakers added a team title this spring, winning the Southbridge Pirate Invitational in Savannah.
The NCAA Division II tournament is four rounds and runs today through Saturday.
The 72-hole event will be a good test on just how far the Lakers have come on the links.
"We have to go out and just play our game," Harwell said.
"We will see what happens, but we deserve to be there and we are excited about it."