New and old faces to vie for crown
Five teams to tee it up for first time at NCAA Championship
To some it is simply an annual reunion.
Thirty-two consecutive years for Methodist; 31 appearances for Central in Iowa; 30 seasons in the final tournament of the season for Greensboro; 28 times for Nebraska-Wesleyan.
But for others it marks a new feeling, a celebration for the first time of competing in the Division III Men’s Golf Championships. The 2012 version tees off May 15 at Mission Inn Resort & Club at Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla.
|DIII MEN'S GOLF CHAMPIONSHIP|
|• Field announced|
|• Championship history|
Five programs will tee it up for the first time at an NCAA Championship, two from Pennsylvania, one from Wisconsin, another from Minnesota, with the fifth calling Rhode Island home.
Neumann, located in Aston, Pa., won the Colonial Athletic Conference by two strokes against Keystone, April 28.
Alvernia, pride of Reading, Pa., won the Commonwealth Conference title, the Crusaders’ first conference crown since winning the 1993 Pennsylvania Athletic Conference.
Providence’s Rhode Island College won the Great Northeast Athletic Conference title last fall with Anchormen freshman Ryan Butler earning medalist honors.
Edgewood College in Madison, Wis., will play with heavy hearts, keeping Reidar Nicholas Oftedahl in their thoughts. The 32-year-old son of head coach Gary Oftedahl died of natural causes last February. Edgewood won the Northern Athletics Conference title with Brent Quade earning medalist honors, his fourth win of the season.
Of the first-time participants St. Thomas (Minn.) may be the best. The Tommies won the tough Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, beating the likes of 2004 DIII champion Gustavus Adolphus and 2007 and 2008 champions St. John’s (Minn.), who surprisingly saw a streak of 12 consecutive NCAA appearances come to an end when they did not receive an at-large bid.
St. Thomas, no not in the Virgin Islands, but a school located in St. Paul, Minn., has been led by three different players at its last four events.
Freshman Alex Kapraun is taking final exams this week and also tried to qualify for next month’s United States Open in San Francisco. The native of Rochester was a multiple-sport star at Rochester’s Lourdes High in high school, playing linebacker for a state championship football squad. He is ranked among the top 100 in the country.
“It’s a great feeling to be part of the team that finally ended the 31-year drought,” said Kapraun after last fall’s MIAC title. “I think we’ve learned through the entire season and this tournament in particular that every single member of this team has a role, and we couldn't have done this without any one of these guys.”
Junior Michael Mortenson, a native of Iola, Wis., turned in the best scores at the Tommies’ final two spring events before the NCAA Championship. Another junior, John Young, from Forest Lake, had the top finish at this spring’s first event.
Freshman Bennett Schroeder, an Eden Prairie native, is ranked inside the top 125 in DIII and has contributed good scores almost every weekend. Minnetonka product Brian Parkhurst, a junior, has also started all five events this spring.
“These five guys played [at the MIAC Championships], but all 13 guys on our roster won it,” said second-year head coach Scott Proshek, a 1979 St. Thomas graduate. “I recall telling our players last spring that this recruiting class we were bringing in would be the best one in years.
“Lineup positions weren’t guaranteed, and guys would really have to work on their game in the summer. That’s exactly what happened. [Brian] Parkhurst has been playing the best golf of his life since our fall tryouts.”
Kapraun’s transition from the gridiron to 7-irons was not easy at first.
“I never envisioned anything like this,” he said. “At the beginning of the year I was playing 12th man and just trying to make the team. I was probably more nervous in the tryouts than I was playing in the conference tournament.”
Proshek likes the competitive nature of multi-sport athletes and plans to continue recruiting those who balance schedules between various sports seasons.
“Now that we’ve won this tournament I don’t think there’s a guy on this team that is satisfied,” said Kapraun. “We want to continue this success and win it all this coming spring.”
Twice as nice
For four schools 2012 marks just their second appearance at the NCAA Championship. They include Penn State-Behrend, Penn State-Harrisburg, Carroll (Wis.), and North Central (Minn.). Three of the four (excluding PSU-Behrend) also qualified in 2011.
Plenty of Division III royalty will be in Florida next week, led by powerhouse Methodist. The 2010 champions have never missed the postseason since joining DIII in 1981, totaling 10 championship trophies and 28 top-five finishes. This year marks a 32nd consecutive appearance.
Central (Iowa) will compete in the DIII Championships for the 31st season. The Dutch, who won a 30th Iowa Conference title, have finished in the top five just once (1985).
The 2011 champion, Greensboro, has played in 29 DIII Championships with 14 top-five finishes, also winning the title in 2000.
Nebraska-Wesleyan has played in 27 DIII meets but has only finished among the top-five three times. Under 17th year head coach Brett Balak, the Wolves won the title in 2006.
The Skidmore Thoroughbreds, located in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., will play in the DIII Championship for the 26th consecutive year. The program has six top-five finishes, including a second place showing in 1996.
Minnesota's Gustavus Adolphus will play for a 25th time. The program has 10 top-five showings, including the championship in 2004.
One notable program missing from the field is St. John's (Minn.). The Johnnies were ranked 12th in the April 25th GCAA poll and had a squad with two players inside the top 100 statistically.
Of the five individuals to earn invitations Centre's Grant Hinton is the highest returning NCAA finishers from 2011. Hinton, whose teammate Chris Morris earned medalist honors last May, shot a final round 67 and tied for 20th.