Veterans, freshmen combine as squad readies for Kickoff Challenge
Manuel De Jesus | Thursday, September 1, 2016
Notre Dame begins the season Sunday with their annual Notre Dame Kickoff Challenge at Warren Golf Course.
The Irish, who finished 10th in the ACC last season, are looking to take an experienced group and make a significant jump in the conference and nationally.
“I definitely expect us to make regionals,” senior Blake Barens said. “We haven’t done that in the last three years, since I’ve been here. We didn’t lose a single starter from last year, and it looks like we’ll have, at least for the Kickoff, a freshman who’s actually going to be playing as our No. 1 guy for the tournament.”
It’ll be yet another year in which the Irish start a freshman in a season-opening tournament. This year, freshman Hunter Ostrom, who will play as the No. 1 seed, is expected to produce for Notre Dame as it looks to place first in the Kickoff Challenge.
In addition to Ostrom and Barens, Notre Dame’s roster will include seven returning players and two more new faces in freshmen John Felitto and Davis Lamb.
Barens, who is one of Notre Dame’s more experienced returners, competed in the U.S. Amateur Championships a couple of weeks ago at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Barens made it past stroke play, scoring a 69 in the first round and a 72 in the second to squeak into match play, where he eventually lost to sophomore Zachary Bauchou from Oklahoma State.
Blake said his experience at the tournament was critical in his development as a player and leader heading into this season.
“It was a really nice confidence boost knowing that I could make match play of the U.S. [Amateur Championships] just because those were some of the best amateurs of the world,” Barens said. “Coming down to the last three holes, I had to make three really good pars, and I had three putts that I had to make. One was a six-footer, one was a 10-footer and the other a 20-footer, and I made all three of them, so it was really nice to know that I can perform under that kind of pressure, and that’ll definitely carry over in the season.”
Barens is also confident in his team’s chances of claiming first in its home opener Sunday.
“I’m confident that we’ll perform well,” Barens said. “It’s big because it’s going to be the first real test for the freshmen as they get their first real taste of experience, and also, for the rest of the guys, it’s been three months since we’ve played a team event for Notre Dame, so it’ll be nice to get back into that rhythm going into next week in San Francisco.”
Last season, the Irish tied for second with IUPUI with a team score of 579 as Toledo took the title in the Notre Dame Kickoff Challenge. Senior Matthew Rushton led the charge for Notre Dame with a two-round score of 136 and six under par. The Irish are hoping that with their third consecutive home start they can reclaim the title against Detroit College and Valparaiso.