While finishing national runner-up is an outstanding accomplishment and signifies a great season, it leaves a team hungry for a just a little bit more.
Perhaps that is the attitude the Lynn University men’s golf team will bring to the NCAA Division II Men’s Golf Championship being held Tuesday through Saturday at Green Valley Ranch Golf Course in Denver.
A year ago, the Fighting Knights finished second to Nova Southeastern at the national tournament.
After winning the Sunshine State Conference Tournament and the South/Southeast Super Regional, the Fighting Knights appear to be clicking on all cylinders at the right time of the season. Sophomore Manuel Torres is definitely playing well for Lynn, taking first in the conference and regional tournaments.
“We have really come together this spring season,” Torres said. “We feel like we play for each other. Everybody gives their best and that is why we have played well the last two tournaments.
“We know it is another challenge ahead us. We know we are ready. We want to bring the national championship home. Coach has been runner-up twice. We want to win for him.”
Andrew Danna took over as head coach on July 30, 2012. In that time, he has guided the Fighting Knights to second in 2013 and 2015 and a quarterfinalist in 2014. He likes what he has seen from this team this year.
“This group has been together for a couple of year now,” Danna said. “I am so proud of them. They do everything I ask. They work hard. The go above and beyond of what is required of them.
“That is not just with golf, it is with academics as well. Their hard work is a testament to what they have accomplished so far this season.”
Unlike schools in the Midwest and the North, Lynn has the luxury of playing golf in warm weather in March and April, but so does its opponents during the regular season.
“It is not a secret that we play in the toughest conference and the toughest regional in the country,” Danna said. “They always say if you can get out of our region, you have a pretty good chance to win a national championship. That is not to take away from a lot of great teams in this country. And there are a lot of great teams from other regions that have wonderful programs.
“But it is tough in our region because there are so many teams.”
Case in point, Nova Southeastern, last year’s national champion, failed to make the top five in the South/Southeastern Super Regional and didn’t advance to the national tournament.
For Lynn to do so well in the last two tournaments, it took more than Torres to finish first. Senior Jose Miranda took 13th at regional and junior Martin Cancino placed 19th.
“We’ve been playing pretty good this whole spring semester,” Torres said. “Our coach is a pretty good motivator. He wanted to win the whole postseason. We set it as a goal. We know we are pretty good.
“Going out there with a win is a blessing and what we wanted to do.”
Danna wants his team to use the same attitude it had at conference and regional for the national championship.
“I work with them a lot on being singularly focused on day-to-day things,” Danna said. “We take it one day at a time, take care of our business and do what we need to do to get better.
“Our goal every year is to peak at the end. In the fall, we try to figure ourselves out. We play in tournaments and as we go, we start finding our form. You want to build your resume as you go into the NCAA tournament because if you won tournaments in the regular season and play well, that in return will give you the confidence you need going into postseason.”
Because of that, the Fighting Knights get to participate in NCAA Division II Festival, which occurs every four years. It brings together student-athletes in many spring sports to one location to compete for national titles.
Besides women and men’s golf, there will be men’s and women’s tennis, softball and women’s lacrosse. The Opening Ceremony is Monday at Mile High Stadium in Denver and the Closing Ceremony is Saturday evening.
“It provides sort of an Olympic environment where all the teams from all the sports are in one location,” Danna said. “To have an opening and closing ceremony it is great for our guys to experience that because it only happens once every four years.
“If you manage to make it through our region in the year of festival, you are going to get to experience it. The guys knew that and that might have been added motivation. We want to experience this before we graduate. I am so happy for them that they get to go to Denver and be part of the sports festival.”
It is one of the experiences Danna hopes the golfers at Lynn cherish.
“First and foremost, I think overall experience they have in this program while they are here is the most important thing to me,” Danna said. “I want to make sure obviously they are prepared mentally and physically to take on the real world when they graduate whether it is turning professional in golf or taking another avenue into their adult lives.
“It is important they have that all-around collegiate experience that prepares them for all aspects in life. Golf is extremely important to our student athletes and myself and so is academics and so is developing those skills and traits and the character you are going to need throughout life.”
Obviously, Danna would love for his golfers to experience a national championship. But he knows previous accomplishments don’t matter once the golfers place a ball on the tee at Grand Valley Ranch Golf Course on Tuesday.
“One thing in golf, when you put the peg in the ground, no matter who you are, what your ranking and wherever you are from, the golf course doesn’t know,” Danna said. “You have to go out and play. What we love about our game is every day is a new test. It is important you stay on your game. If you don’t, you will get exposed.”
Chico State is another team to watch
By finishing first in the West/South Central Super Regional, Chico State picked up its seventh first-place finish of the season and earned its third straight appearance in the NCAA Championship finals and fifth time in the last seven years under coach T.L. Brown.
Leading the way to Chico State’s first regional title since 2004 was senior Lee Gearhart, who placed eighth. Freshman Matt Hutchins and senior Justin Wiles tied for 13th.