Wichita State's men's golf team usually handles the distractions of late spring without problem. The Shockers are the defending Missouri Valley Conference tournament champions, and haven't finished lower than second in the past 13 tournaments.
Coach Grier Jones wants to keep that going on a team with three freshmen in its top five players. Senior Dustin Garza, MVC co-champion in 2009, knows the routine. It's new to almost every other Shocker.
"It's a real hectic time," Jones said. "This time of year, you start to lose them a little bit. Summer's not far off and everybody's got finals."
Even Garza has had his distractions. He was recently named to the United States Palmer Cup team, one of the biggest honors a collegiate golfer can earn. He will play in the Ryder Cup-style event against a team from Europe in late June in Northern Ireland.
WSU, even with the youth on the team, is picked to win its third straight MVC title. The Shockers own three tournament victories, with Garza earning medalist honors six times in 2009-10.
Jones witnessed some of that slippage in focus in WSU's previous tournament. The Shockers shot a 305 and a 301 in the first two rounds of the Crooked Stick Invitational a week ago. They rallied for a 293 in the final round to finish sixth.
"When you don't have a lot of seniors, it's one of those things," Jones said. "Freshmen are freshmen. Hopefully, this is just going to be another tournament and we're going to play as well as we can play."
WSU enters the tournament needing to win to secure a spot in an NCAA regional. Garza, No. 1 in the GolfStat Cup standings with a 70.39 scoring average, is in good shape to earn an individual spot, regardless of how the Shockers fare in Hutchinson.
Illinois State is picked second in the pre-tournament poll of coaches. The Redbirds finished second in 2009 and won the title in 2007. WSU and Illinois State have combined to win the past 11 MVC titles.