By Brett Friedensohn
The golf team at County College of Morris capped off a 36-1 season by sweeping both the region and conference championships and finishing the national title in the fifth seed, the highest ranking in the program’s history.
This marks the first region title at CCM since softball in 2016 and the first for golf since 2014.
The Titans clinched the top honor of the National Junior College Athletic Association Region XIX at an outing Monday, May 7 and Tuesday, May 8 when they racked up a team score of 314 at Galloping Hill Golf Course in Kenilworth, New Jersey.
They earned the Garden State Athletic Conference Championship when they scored 310 also at Galloping Hill where freshman Kyle Kepler earned the tournament’s best individual score at 74.
The team then secured the fifth spot out of 12 community colleges with a score of 317 at Chautauqua Golf Club in Chautauqua, New York Friday, June 8.
CCM freshman Nick Axelson shot the 14th overall best score of the tournament at 313; he also earned a spot as an NJCAA third team All-American for the 2018 season.
“It comes down to a lot of different factors, obviously, but overall, it was just a good group of guys,” Axelson said. “I mean, we really got along together well as a team. We built off each other’s competition as well as amongst ourselves as well as the other teams we were facing.”
Axelson also said that head coach Jim Chegwidden kept the team focused on and committed to the sport.
“He was very much a leader for all of us and somebody that we can strive to be, like somebody that we almost want to emulate for his seriousness and doing everything the right way, no cutting corners and just really putting in the time and the effort, and that goes all the way back to preseason and the fall in just getting us into the gym, getting us a place to play schrimaches, getting us lessons with our assistant coach Mikey [Mrugal],” Axelson said. “We weren’t just screwing around just having fun. We were going in competitive trying to win.”
After the region title win and before nationals, Chegwidden said that this team was his best since 2007 when Morris won the region title and placed eighth in the country.
“Anything below eighth is going to be a good year; anything below fifth is going to be a great year,” Chegwidden said. “I think we’re going to need a lot of luck. The second thing is everyone’s going to have to understand that we’re going to get some bad shots. You have to get past that and just deal with what’s in front of you and not worry about what’s behind you. That’s why I like golf so much … It’s like life. If you worry about yesterday, then you can’t take care of things today, so if you hit a bad shot, and you let it affect the rest of your round, then you’re going to have a bad day.”
Chegwidden said that his ability to rely on all five team members helped lead to his team’s success.
“I think the fact that we had five guys that could step it up at any time, and anyone could step it up and be a leader this year,” Chegwidden said. “The No. 5 guy Ryan Ruban from Florida, when we were playing in the region qualifier in Hybrid Hills back on May 2, he really stepped it up, and he was the one that got us in the No. 1 seed, and then, the first day of the region tournament, we took a 10-stroke lead, and the second day, we got another 10-stroke lead. We ended up winning by 20 strokes, and Ricky Christiansen, a freshman from Little Falls, he stepped it up. At the region tournament, he placed third in the region tournament. So in the beginning of the season, Nick Axelson from Roxbury, he carried us for the first part of the year, and then, Kyle Kepler from Wharton started playing really well towards the end of the season … And then, you had Tommy Apostolico steady throughout the whole season. He was just right around 80 all year long.”
Athletic director Jack Sullivan said that the team would have likely improved on their standing if given more time at nationals.
“They all shot better as they tournament went on, so I think if the tournament had a few more rounds, they would have even improved upon a fifth place finish,” Sullivan said. “I always think passion and desire to build a quality program comes from the coaches, and they have a personal connection to the school and the program.”
Axelson said that he probably played his best golf last year, his senior year playing at Roxbury High School. During the fall 2017 semester, he attended Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina to play golf and study professional golf management, but when he found that he did not play as much as he had hoped, he transferred to CCM. He said that the lack of golf played between high school and CCM has hindered his game, and he hopes to practice more in preparation for next season to rebound.
“I’ve got a lot of parts of my game that could use much improvement especially my short game,” Axelson said. “I think my putting let me down a lot this year, but just playing mid-season when you’re playing almost three, four times a week competing, your game surprisingly gets so much better so fast constantly playing and putting in that repetition. I guess that’s the one thing about next season is playing a lot of golf as a team and putting ourselves in situations with pressure and experiencing that before we have to deal with that is the biggest thing, the preparation.”
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that CCM golf’s most recent region title before 2018 was in 2007. While the Titans did win the title in 2007 and 2018, their most recent region title before this year was in 2014. The current version reflects that.