Lord Jeffs Eyeing Return to NESCAC Championship

Contact: Justin Long

The Lord Jeffs took a big step in the right direction last year, notably earning a spot in the NESCAC Championship for the first time since the qualification format was put in play four years ago. Amherst carded a 299 on both days of the qualifying event to land in third place among the 10 participating teams, falling just one stroke behind the runner-up. The Jeffs also saw big improvements by placing third at the Trinity Invitational one year after finishing sixth in the same event. Similarly, they landed in sixth place among a field of 18 teams at UMass Dartmouth, three spots up from their ninth-place showing the previous year. 

Nate Belkin '12 earned a spot on
the All-NESCAC Second Team last year.

Amherst takes a big hit with the loss of Trip Wray ’11 and Mike Belkin ’11 to graduation. Wray recorded the team’s lowest score in five tournaments last year, notably placing second overall at Trinity thanks to an impressive second-round total of 69. Wray also tied for fifth at the NESCAC Championship Qualifier, which earned him a spot on the All-Conference First Team.

“Losing Trip and Mike certainly hurts, but we return a number of guys who are used to making big contributions,” says head coach Jack Arena ’83, who last fall was named NESCAC Coach of the Year. “If we stay consistent and play to our potential, we’ll have a good shot at returning to the NESCAC Championship at the end of the year.”

Highlighting this year’s squad is Nate Belkin ’12, who has been one of the program’s top golfers since he arrived on campus back in 2008. His breakthrough performance came at Middlebury’s Duke Nelson Invitational during his rookie season, as he tied for second place in a field of 116 golfers (72-75-147). As a sophomore he carded Amherst’s lowest score in three tournaments, notably tying for third overall at the Trinity Invitational by shooting a 73-73-146.

Last year Belkin led Amherst in two tournaments and had the team’s second lowest score in three others, but he saved his best performance for when it mattered most. At the NESCAC Championship Qualifier he tied for seventh place with a 74-73-147, earning him All-Conference honors and helping the Lord Jeffs qualify for the NESCAC Championship. "Nate doesn’t get fazed by playing well, and he’s very committed to whatever he’s doing," Arena says. "He’s a great role model for our team.”

Also beginning their final season with the Lord Jeffs are Mark Colp ’12 and Matt Parsons ’12. Colp finished with Amherst’s third lowest score at last year’s NESCAC Spring Opener, shooting a 40-42-82 to land only one stroke behind Belkin. “We have three great seniors who we’ll be counting on to set a positive tenor for the group,” Arena says. “Generally, the seniors dictate the character and atmosphere of a team. Our younger players are in good hands this year.”

Matt Parsons '12 will look to play a more
prominent role during his senior season.

Hoping to continue the momentum from a strong sophomore season will be Alex Butensky ’13, who had one of Amherst’s top three scores in four tournaments last year. His best round came at the NESCAC Championship, putting in the Lord Jeffs’ lowest score (75) on the second day of competition as one of only eight golfers to shoot a 75 or better in the final round. “Alex has been a steady, consistent contributor since his freshman year,” Arena says. “He’s a terrific teammate who brings a great presence and attitude, and we’re counting on him to continue with that.”

Joining Butensky in the junior class are Ben Johnston ’13 and Jared Kusma ’13. Johnston hung with the front of the pack at last year’s Duke Nelson Invite by shooting a 79 on the first day, and at UMass Dartmouth he finished with the team’s second lowest score. His 77 on the second day of the NESCAC Championship was Amherst’s second best performance of the final round, marking his finest outing of the season. “Ben has steadily improved during his time at Amherst, and we’re counting on him to be a regular contributor this year,” Arena says. Kusma, meanwhile, battled a serious wrist injury as a sophomore and was never able to get into a rhythm, but Coach Arena is hopeful that he can contribute this season.

Looking to build on promising first years are Erik Hansen ’14 and Nicholas Koh ’14. Hansen’s most successful tournament was the NESCAC Championship Qualifier, where he carded a 76 on the first day to help the Jeffs earn a spot in the conference’s championship event. Koh placed in the team’s top three on two occasions, including at the Duke Nelson Invite thanks to an impressive day-one score of 78. “Erik and Nicholas were significant contributors last year, but we’re going to need them to become more of our go-to guys,” Arena says. “They’re both very steady players, and I’m confident they can rise to the occasion.”

Rounding out this year’s team will be California natives Josh Moser ’15 (San Francisco) and Jarvis Sill ’15 (Portola Valley). “Josh and Jarvis are both good, solid players,” Arena says. “I’m hoping they can both quickly adjust to collegiate golf and contribute in our top five.”

Amherst’s fall season will consist of four tournaments in as many weeks, beginning with the Trinity Invitational on Sept. 10-11 and concluding with the NESCAC Championship Qualifier at Wesleyan on Oct. 1-2. The Lord Jeffs will also once again take part in the Duke Nelson Invitational (Sept. 17-18) and the Williams Fall Invitational (Sept. 24-25).