Kyle Schrader would be found trudging along, carrying the bags of the seniors on Western Washington University's men's golf team last year. As the youngest player on the team, it was a duty he performed without complaint.
This year, though, Schrader will bear a much different burden: being the Vikings' No. 1 golfer heading into their opening tournament, the 42nd Annual Western Washington University Invitational.
"I am scoring well, now, and staying mentally tough and grinding out rounds," Schrader said in a phone interview. "I don't feel like I am playing my absolute best golf ... but I am piecing it together out there even when I am struggling a little bit."
The 42nd Annual Western Washington University Invitational begins Monday, Sept. 23, at The Bellingham Golf and Country Club. WWU's bid for a second consecutive win at the tournament will begin at 8:30 a.m., and run through Tuesday, Sept. 24.
Schrader and fellow junior Mark Strickland return as WWU's most experienced and accomplished golfers. Both played instrumental roles in guiding the Vikings to a third-place finish at the NCAA Division-II Nationals Golf Tournament last year, experience that will pay dividends when mentoring this year's freshman-heavy squad.
"With our young team this year, Mark and I will get to share the experiences we had at nationals to make our team better," Schrader said. "I think this year we have a good shot at getting back and doing well."
Schrader didn't expect much from himself entering 2012-13 season. Thoughts of redshirting were more pervasive than anything, but by year's end, accolades quickly dispelled any notion that he wasn't ready to compete at the collegiate level. Among those accomplishments was his performance at the NCAA West Regionals where he shot a final-round, 6-under-par 66 to earn top medalist honors.
"It felt like all my hard work and the training I had put in finally paid off," he said. "I was really excited, and I felt really blessed to have that opportunity to even be playing this year, let alone winning a tournament."
Schrader was in one of the final groups still on the course at regionals, so when he made the walk back to the club house, everyone surrounding the final scoreboard knew he was the one in the lead. The feeling of having everyone's eyes on him is something he said he won't ever forget.
The burden of returning back to nationals isn't one that will fall solely on Schrader. Strickland, a first-team Great Northwest Athletic Conference All-Star and West Regional All-Star last year, will hope to provide the Vikings with the same level of consistency he did a year ago when he led the team with eight top-10 finishes. Strickland also took home his first collegiate win at the 41st Annual Western Washington Invitational.
While Strickland struggled a bit through qualifying, coming in fifth during preseason training, Schrader has little doubt the two will make a lethal one-two combo for the Vikings as the season unfolds.
"I don't care how he was playing the last two weeks, he'll always come through in tournaments and play well," Schrader said of Strickland. "He is so competitive. ... No matter what, during a tournament, he will grind it out."
2013 WWU MEN'S GOLF SCHEDULE
Sept. 23 42nd Annual Western Washington University Men's Golf Invitational
Sept. 30 Golfweek Invitational (Sunriver, Ore.)
Oct. 7 Chico State University Invtiational (Corning, Cal.)
Oct. 21 Cal State University Monterey Bay Invitational (Seaside, Cal.)
March 3 St. Edwards Invitational (Austin, Texas.)
March 10 Cal Baptist Invitational (Riverside, Cal.)
April 7 Western New Mexico University West/South Central Desert Shootout (Goodyear, Ariz.)
April 14 Cal State Stanislaus Invitational (Turlock, Cal.)
Player Year Hometown
Anthony Allen Fr. Arlington
Brennan Emory RS Fr. Mount Vernon
David Fonua Fr. Seattle
Chris Hatch Fr. Mukilteo
Jack Kelly So. North Bend
Kyle Lindor RS Fr. Woodinville
Willy Scholten Fr. Lynden
Kyle Schrader Jr. Olympia
Mark Strickland Jr. Mukilteo