Men's spring preview: Atlantic Sun

Men's spring preview: Atlantic Sun

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Men's spring preview: Atlantic Sun

Editor’s note: Over the next month, Golfweek.com will be previewing every conference that has an automatic bid into the NCAA Regionals. For all of the men’s conference capsules, click here.

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Seven shots.

That’s all that has come between North Florida and a match-play berth in its last two NCAA Championship appearances – four strokes in 2010 and three last season.

Sean Dale has been there for both, and this spring the senior will get one more shot at helping the Ospreys advance to match play, which has eluded North Florida in three trips to the NCAA Championship since the program moved to Division I before the 1997-98 season.

Of course, the two-time All-American, who has won four tournaments with the Ospreys, wouldn’t have gotten that chance had he earned his PGA Tour card through Q-School late last year.

Dale had said if he made it through Q-School, he’d forego his college eligibility and turn pro. But if things didn’t go well and he failed to earn his card, he’d return to school this spring.

He ended up finishing T-45 at a second stage qualifier in McKinney, Texas, in November, signaling his return to Jacksonville, Fla. – a move that turns North Florida from a conference contender into a national title contender.

“Obviously anytime you add a two-time All-American, it’s a huge boost,” North Florida head coach Scott Schroeder said. “He’s worth about 10 shots a tournament. He just brings that intangible to the team where he expects to win.”

The Ospreys had a good fall campaign, but it wasn’t up to the standard set last fall when North Florida, led by Dale, worked its way up to fifth in the country.

North Florida’s third-place finish at the Brickyard Collegiate in Macon, Ga., was the highlight of the fall, as the Ospreys shot 1-over 865 as a team and placed four individuals in the top 25.

M.J. Maguire led the team in two of four events, finishing seventh at the Carpet Capital Collegiate in Rocky Face, Ga., and T-5 at the Shoal Creek Collegiate in Birmingham, Ala. North Florida finished ninth and sixth, respectively, in those two tournaments.

A 10th-place showing at the Isleworth Collegiate rounded out the Ospreys’ fall schedule. Kevin Phelan finished T-9 to lead North Florida.

Maguire and Petronio were the only two individuals to play in all four fall events for the Ospreys. Maguire, Phelan and Petronio each notched a scoring average of 74.92 or better in the fall with Maguire’s 72.25 stroke average leading the team.

The fifth spot in the lineup seems to be up for grabs as Austin Padova, Joe Stepnes and Taylor Hancock all saw action in multiple tournaments and posted scoring averages in the 75s.

“We probably have four or five guys who will battle it out for that final spot,” Schroeder said.

North Florida will open its season at the SunTrust Gator Invitational in Gainesville, Fla. The Ospreys are the obvious favorite to win a second straight A-Sun conference title and Schroeder’s bunch is up to the task.

“We want to get out to a good start this spring, see how we stack up with the best teams in the country and try to make a run like we did last year,” Schroeder said.

And with Dale back to join a formidable and experienced lineup, maybe the Ospreys’ run will be a little longer this season.

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Where it stands now

Top of the class: North Florida

Best player this fall: Jimmy Beck, Kennesaw State

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Past champions

2012: North Florida

2011: Kennesaw State

2010: East Tennessee State

2009: Campbell

2008: North Florida

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Conference capsules

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