New faces, old standbys
Charlotte, USF join Stanford, Illinois in champ chase
Collegiate golf’s championship is set to kick off this weekend from Bradenton, Florida. Thirty of the nation’s best Division I teams and six standout individuals are set to converge on The Concession Golf Club starting Friday, May 29th.
Six regional tournaments were held the weekend of May 14th through 16th. Five schools qualified from each region and two of them are expected to make some noise this weekend.
South Florida makes the trip makes down the road to Bradenton as the host school. Rookie head coach Steven Bradley helped the Bulls capture the New Haven Regional and advance to their first NCAA Division I Golf Championship.
The Bulls -- who sat at No. 15 in the GCAA Coaches Poll heading into New Haven -- had no easy task in winning their first Regional. South Florida took on national Top 20 powerhouses like Vanderbilt (No. 5), LSU (No. 7) and Oklahoma State (No. 19), the Bulls came out of the gates poised for victory and never looked back.
USF won their Regional in a landslide, finishing at 14 under -- the only team to finish under par at The Course at Yale. The Bulls have won three in a row heading into The Concession Golf Course winning at The Irish Creek Collegiate, the American Athletic Conference Championship and then in New Haven. They also have had the luxury of playing The Concession Golf Course this season.
“I do think there is a slight advantage,” USF head coach Steven Bradley said. “We are familiar with the layout and conditions of the course. That being said, we also know how difficult the course is. We certainly have respect for the course and what it's capable of.”
Does their recent hot streak and familiarity with The Concession give them an edge heading into this weekend?
“I certainly think the guys are confident,” Bradley said. “We've won five times this year and they are excited for NCAA's. I don't think the guys think much about the 'host' part. I believe that we will be a little nervous at the start of the event, most of the players will. Staying patient will be a key for us. It has the potential to be a lot of golf.”
No. 1 ranked FSU and No. 8 ranked Stanford were expected to be favorites in the Chapel Hill Regional, but the Charlotte 49ers came out victorious, earning the program’s first Regional Championship.
The 49ers find themselves in a new spot. They are the winners of the Chapel Hill Region, and people will certainly be looking at them differently.
“When you're able to beat the No. 1 team in the country and then a really good Stanford team that finished just behind us, it sure builds some confidence,” 49ers head coach Ryan Cabbage said. “It shows our guys that if we do play well, we can compete with the best teams in the country and beat the best teams in the country.
Our only expectation is to be as good as we can be and take care of our business. It doesn’t matter whether its 1st place, 10th place, or 20th place, we need to focus on taking care of the things we can take care of, playing to the best that we can. Wherever that puts us, it puts us. Fortunately at Chapel Hill, that put us in first place. If we’re able to that at Concession, then we will certainly be in contention, but there a lot of really good teams down there.”
The 49ers are truly a team that feeds off of each other. Only Victor Wiggins earned All-Conference honors (second team) but all six of their golfers have had multiple top ten finishes this season. Despite being void of what people may label a superstar, the 49ers are tough from the top to the bottom of their lineup. Four of their players finished in the Top 12 at Chapel Hill, which propelled them to victory.
“We fight well,” Cabbage said. “One through six on our team have really played well at times. We just never had the week where all five guys all played well at the same time. That’s what happened at Chapel Hill.
It makes me feel comfortable as a coach because I know that we have five guys that can play. If one guy struggles one day, the other four can pick him up. As we proved in Chapel Hill, if we can get all five guys pointed in the right direction at the same time, we can be pretty good.”
While Charlotte and USF brings some fresh blood to this year’s championship, one can’t forget to pay attention to the seasoned veterans. Stanford is always a perennial threat, and this year they are led into the championships behind the amazing play of the Pac-12 Player of the Year, Maverick McNealy.
“Maverick has had one the best single seasons in our programs history,” Stanford head coach Conrad Ray said. “It has been fun to watch! It has also been fun to see how the team is the most important thing for him and he realizes that his success is directly related to the team he has around him. Whenever you can have the No. 1 guy playing for you and at such a consistent level it bodes well for the team score.”
Championship stalwarts Illinois will be making its eighth consecutive appearance at the DI Championships, but this year, they will be heading in ranked higher than they've ever been. The Illini are led by Brian Campbell, who won his second NCAA Regional title this year. The team is full of big names in college golf, as Nick Hardy and Charlie Danielson are also former Big Ten medalists.
“We have some experience on our team,” Illinois head coach Mike Small said. “I’m excited to get down and compete in the National Championships with three guys who have a lot of experience and then two talented freshman. This is their first go at it and they are excited to be here, so I think it’s a good mix of players with experience and excitement.
We’ve never really been this high of a seed before so we are excited about that. Coming down here is going to be a great experience for us. We understand that any week is a new week, good or bad, so we take it for what it is and are ready to embrace the challenge.”