By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - Head coach Chris Malloy knows if the Bulls can stay in the right frame of mind a conference title is a pretty realistic thought for a team that's powered by young talent.
The second-seeded USF men's golf team begins its chase for a Big East Championship when Sunday's first round begins at the Reunion Resort and Club in Orlando. The Bulls will take the Watson Course with six top-10 finishes under their belts and a goal of winning their first tournament of the season when it matters the most.
"I think we have a great opportunity sitting in front of us," Malloy said. "If we go out, do our part and stay composed mentally then we'll be OK and give ourselves a chance."
The closest the Bulls have come to a title came in September when they finished in a tie for second at the Golfweek Program Challenge that proved to be a great start to the soaring college career of Trey Valentine. The freshman ended up in a tie for fourth individually and has turned in four more top-10 finishes leading up to Sunday's play.
"Trey has had one of the best freshman years that I've ever seen. He's played great," Malloy said. "I fully expect him to play well as he has all year long."
Fellow freshman Branden Collins has been the other half of USF's dynamic, young duo even though he's battled an illness for most of the spring. The Tallahasee native has posted three finishes in the top 25 and Malloy expects him to return to form for conference play.
"He's fully healthy and really starting to play well," Malloy said." I know he'll play well this weekend. He just has to stay positive and be as carefree as he can out there. If he does that, he will play well and we will play well."
Another bright spot in the Bulls' lineup has been sophomore Bodi Karsono, who has two top-10 finishes and has been opening Malloy's eyes in practice lately.
"He's had flashes of brilliance this year and he's played well for us," Malloy said. "He made six straight birdies on this golf course when we played match play a couple of months back. I know he likes this course and he's looking forward to getting there."
The rest of USF's lineup is made up of junior Devin Hernandez and senior Rick Kittelstad, who have combined for three finishes in the top 10 this season.
The Bulls will get a look at their top competition up close Sunday when they'll be paired with top-seeded Notre Dame. The group also includes No. 7 seed Seton Hall and tees off at 10:30 a.m.
"Getting off to a good start I think is imperative for us. You don't want to put too much pressure on yourself by any means," Malloy said. "If we don't put pressure on ourselves, I think we'll get off to a good start. If you see some early success it's easy to ride that momentum and that will help you as you go along."
Live scoring of the Big East Championship can be found online at Golfstat.com. Get live Twitter updates @tomzeboldusf.