College Men

Men's preview: Sun Belt Conference

Carlos Ortiz of North Texas
Carlos Ortiz of North Texas ( Courtesy of North Texas )

Thursday, February 16, 2012

It’s been quite a turnaround for the North Texas men’s golf program.

The Mean Green finished the 2008-09 season – head coach Brad Stracke’s first season with the team – ranked 143rd in the Golfweek/Sagarin men’s collegiate team rankings.

Heading into this spring, North Texas finds itself at No. 40.

“We had a really good recruiting class my first year here with Carlos Ortiz, Rodolfo Cazuabon, Curtis Donahoe and Marco Scarola,” said Stracke, who is in his fourth season after serving as an assistant for Florida the previous three seasons.

“Those four really elevated the team and we’ve progressed every year since then. We have really good kids in here right now and they want to play, they want to get better and they’re learning every day. It’s been a fun trip.”

Stracke and the Mean Green will look to build off last season’s success, which included North Texas’ first NCAA Regional at-large bid since 2003 and second in school history.

One of the key catalysts on that squad was Ortiz, then a sophomore, who won three tournaments, including the Sun Belt Conference Championship. Ortiz had finished T-21 at conference as a freshman.

“Carlos is a very smart player and he learns after every tournament,” Stracke said. “If he plays a golf course two years in a row, he’s going to play it really well that second year. He gets better every week.”

Not much has changed this season. Ortiz leads the team with a 71.3 stroke average and closed the fall with third- and fourth-place finishes.

His play will almost certainly help determine whether the Mean Green bring home their first Sun Belt title since 2003.

But North Texas also returns every golfer from a year ago and will field its fourth different lineup in five events when the Mean Green open the spring Monday at the UTSA Invitational in San Antonio.

“We’re much deeper this year,” Stracke said. “That’s going to pay big dividends in the postseason.”

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Top of the class: North Texas

Best player this fall: Hunter Green, Middle Tennessee State

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Past champions

2007: Louisiana-Lafayette

2008: Denver

2009: Middle Tennessee State

2010: South Alabama

2011: Denver

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Conference capsules

North Texas (Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: No. 40)

Mean Green notched a pair of runner-up finishes during the fall. Defending conference medalist Carlos Ortiz, ranked No. 125 in the Golfweek/Sagarin men’s collegiate individual rankings, closed the fall with third- and fourth-place finishes.

Middle Tennessee State (No. 46)

Blue Raiders won Mason Rudolph Championship in September, but struggled a little with 11th and 9th place finishes in their other two fall tournaments. Hunter Green, ranked No. 16, might be the best golfer in the conference, posting a Sun Belt-best 70.1 stroke average and winning the Mason Rudolph.

Louisiana-Lafayette (No. 55)

Ragin Cajuns didn’t win a fall event, but finished fifth or better in all four tournaments. Andrew Noto, ranked No. 165, had the second-best stroke average (71.8) in the conference last fall. Teammate Philipp Fendt’s 71.9 ranked third.

Denver (No. 93)

Defending conference champs recorded a trio of sixth-place finishes to go along with a third during the fall.

South Alabama (No. 96)

Jaguars opened the fall with a runner-up finish at the Sam Hall Intercollegiate behind Blake Kelley’s 9-under performance, which earned him a share of medalist honors.

Arkansas-Little Rock (No. 107)

Nicklaus Benton and Alfred Kerstis finished the fall ranked third and fifth, respectively, in stroke average among conference golfers with at least 10 rounds played. Benton won the Cardinal Collegiate, which was one of two tournaments the Trojans won last fall.

Arkansas State (No. 153)

Red Wolves closed fall with runner-up finish at Bill Ross Intercollegiate. Arkansas State also turned in an 8-over, third-place performance at the UTA/Waterchase Invitational in September.

Troy (No. 161)

Opened fall with 9-under, sixth-place finish at the Golfweek Program Challenge. The fall closed in similar fashion with a sixth at the Amelia Island Intercollegiate.

Louisiana-Monroe (No. 198)

Highlight of fall came at season-ending HBU Men’s Intercollegiate, where the Warhawks placed fourth and had five golfers shoot season-best scores.

Western Kentucky (No. 224)

Three top 10s highlighted fall, but a last-place finish at the Kiawah Island Intercollegiate to close the fall campaign hurt.

Florida Atlantic (No. 253)

Owls didn’t finish better than seventh in four fall tournaments.

Conference championship

April 25-27, Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, Fighting Joe Course, Muscle Shoals, Ala.

Lance Ringler's prediction

Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Raiders are much better than the fall season showed us. If Whit Turnbow's squad had a good offseason, MTSU will be the favorite at the Sun Belt Championship.

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Complete coverage

Wondering how your favorite conference is shaping up headed into the spring season? Who is our favorite to pick up the automatic qualifier? Check out our conference-by-conference break down with our complete coverage page here.

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