Believe it or not, the start of another college golf season is just a few short weeks away. To get you ready, Asher Wildman will break down the top 60 teams for both the men and women. Today, it’s No. 50 on the board with the UNLV men and East Carolina women.
2010-11 final ranking: 50
Coach: Dwaine Knight (24th year)
Top returnees: Senior Derek Ernst (2010 Mountain West player of the year) and sophomore Blake Biddle (2010 Mountain West freshman of the year)
Top newcomers: Freshmen Carl Johnson of Bainbridge Island, Wash., and Kurt Kitayama of Chico, Calif., the 2009 Northern California junior player of the year.
Projected starting 5: Derek Ernst (Sr.), Kevin Penner (Jr.), Blake Biddle (So.), Arthur Kim (Jr.) and Nicholas Maruri (So.)
Key losses: None
Key fall tournament: Jerry Pate Intercollegiate
2010-11 recap: UNLV had several chances to win tournaments but fell a few shots short. The Rebels had a handful of second- and third-place finishes but were missing contributors on the back end of their lineup. “We played some good golf where often times it came down to the last hole,” Knight said. “We often relied on our top three and just always seemed to be another good score short.”
UNLV had a chance to win the Mountain West title on the 18th hole before finishing third. With a 12th-place finish at the regional in San Diego, the Rebels failed to advance to the NCAA Championship.
Player to watch: Blake Biddle. Said Knight: “He’s a really outstanding player, and we will see more consistency. He’s not exceptionally long but is very accurate. He’s a scrapper that battles to do what he needs to get things done, and I like that.”
2011-2012 preview: The Nos. 4 and 5 spots will be keys for the Rebels. Derek Ernst, Kevin Penner and Blake Biddle, the three main contributors last season, return to lead UNLV. Arthur Kim, in his second year in Las Vegas after transferring from Purdue, could help. “He needed time to adjust last year,” Knight said of Kim. “I expect him to be more competitive this year and step in there for us.”
Knight anticipates plenty of competition among the returnees and newcomers for a place in the starting five. “Carl Johnson can really makea name for himself this year,” Knight said. “He was heavily recruited on the West Coast and can be a steady contributor his first year.”
The Rebels should have the depth to contend for tournament titles this year. But can they break through and win again?
Bottom line: UNLV has a strong core atop its lineup, but the back end is the big question entering the fall season. Several players will have the chance to emerge for the Rebels, and it might come down to who has the hot hand on any given week in practice. If UNLV can find at least a strong No. 4 player, the Rebels can return to the top 25. However, we could see more of the same, with the Rebels’ big three carrying the load for a team hoping to have a good week at regionals.
EAST CAROLINA WOMEN
2010-11 final ranking: 50
Coach: Kevin Williams (11th year)
Top returnees: Sophomore Fanny Wolte (Conference USA Freshman of the year) and senior Amy Otteson
Top newcomers: Freshmen Emily Eng from Auckland, New Zealand, Katie Kirk from Davidson, N.C., and Devan Murphy from Charlotte, N.C.
Projected starting 5: Fanny Wolte (So.), Amy Otteson (Sr.), Katie Kirk (Fr.), Emily Eng (Fr.) and Julia Strandberg (Sr.) or Faith Hardison (So.)
Key losses: Amber Littman, who is ECU’s assistant coach this season, and Colleen Estes
Key fall tournament: The Golfweek Program Challenge
2010-11 recap: ECU stepped into the winner’s circle three times last year – at the UNCG Starmount Fall Classic, Barefoot at the Beach Intercollegiate and UNCW Lady Seahawk Intercollegiate – and earned a spot in the NCAA East Regional. ECU cracked the top 50 of the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, which took Williams by surprise. “I thought we overachieved last year,” he said. “We didn’t have a solid fifth player but were able to make it to a fourth straight postseason bid.”
ECU was hurt when Megan Moore decided to leave school for personal reasons. “It’s hard to just replace a starter in the lineup,” Williams said. “We needed someone to step up, and it just didn’t happen.” Even without Moore, seniors Littman and Estes were the first graduating class to make it to the postseason in four consecutive years.
Player to watch: Fanny Wolte. Said Williams: “Coaches are impressed with how strong of a player she is. Her biggest adjustment is tough golf courses and how to putt on Bermuda. She won two tournaments last year, and both were on bentgrass, which is what she was used to back home in Austria.”
2011-12 preview: ECU enters the season with something unusual: uncertainty. “What I’m worried about is that I don’t know who my five starters are,” Williams said. “For two out of the last three years, we had the same starting five, and it was set.”
This year, he is putting pressure on two of his returning starters in Hardison and Strandberg. Those two appear to be battling for the final starting spot but could be a 4-5 combo for the Pirates.
Kirk and Eng, projected to start as freshmen, will face pressure early. “You just don’t know what freshman can give you from the start,” Williams said. “They will have their ups and downs, but if we don’t find that fifth starter, then we could have some real trouble.”
Last year, the Pirates tended to beat the lower-ranked teams but not the ones ahead of them. To improve on that trend, ECU will need its younger players to emerge. That will be a tough challenge.
Bottom line: ECU slowly has climbed the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings. This year, the Pirates hope to contend with Tulane for a Conference USA championship. However, this team has too many questions starting the season. With freshmen projected at Nos. 3 and 4, and the No. 5 to be determined, ECU might struggle. However, Williams has shown over the years that he can get the job done, and he should return ECU to the regionals. A trip to nationals, though, seems to be a year or two away.