During the month of January, Golfweek will preview the 2014 spring season for each conference. Check out all of the previews here.
Today, we look at the America Sky Conference:
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5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
• Top of the class: Sacramento State
• Player to watch: Evan Russell, Hartford. Last year’s America Sky Rookie of the Year appears to be ready to make a run at Player of the Year. Russell won two tournaments in the fall and finished as runner-up two times. He posted a blazing 69.18 stroke average in the fall as well with a low round of 62.
• Freshman to watch: Cody Bates, Sacramento State. Bates posted a 70.7 stroke average in the final round of play of fall tournaments, showing he gets better with time. Sacramento State is hoping that holds true, as they could rely on the rookie to help carry them to an America Sky title.
• Conference championship: April 25-27, Greenhorn Creek Resort (Angel), Camp, Calif.
• Past champions (since 2009): Houston Baptist (2013), Sacramento State (2012), Weber State (2011), Texas-Pan American (2010), Houston Baptist (2009)
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(Golfweek/Sagarin rank in parentheses)
• Sacramento State (117): The highlight of Sacramento State’s solid fall campaign was a win at the Dash Thomas Memorial in Eagle, Idaho. The Hornets beat out a field that included Cal State Fullerton, host Boise State and conference opponents Utah State and Weber State. Sacramento State returns four of its five contributors from the America Sky Conference Championship last year, including individual medalist Jordan Weir. Weir only competed in two of the team’s four events this fall, finishing in a tie for 22nd and 64th. Freshman Cody Bates helped pick up for Weir, notching two top-15 finishes in the team’s final two events of the fall.
• Hartford (121): Hartford was busy in the fall, managing six top-5 finishes as a team in as many tournaments. Headlining the Hawks’ successful fall campaign is sophomore Evan Russell, who took medalist honors at the Temple Invitational and the Hartford Hawk Invitational. Russell posted a sub-70 stroke average in the fall, including a round of 63 at the Hartford Hawk Invitational.
• Northern Colorado (167): Northern Colorado returns two All-America Sky Conference second-team members from a year ago, Ben Krueger and Steven Kupcho. Krueger, who placed third individually at the America Sky Championship last season, finished the fall strong, posting the team’s lowest score in the final three tournaments of the fall. The Bears finished the fall with three top-10 finishes as a team, including a third-place showing at the Herb Wimberly Intercollegiate to cap off fall play.
• Southern Utah (188): Southern Utah will feature a bit of a different lineup from its runner-up finish at the America Sky Championship last season, but keeps the core of its team in Tim Leonard, Jake Holt and Sammy Cole. Leonard, Holt and Cole posted the three lowest stroke averages for Southern Utah last season, respectively. With their three leaders, The Thunderbirds pulled out top-10 finishes in four of their five fall tournaments.
• Binghamton (189): Binghamton featured the same five golfers for nearly all of its six tournaments this fall. A core of four upperclassmen and one freshman pulled out five top-five finishes, including a win at the Colgate Fall Invitational. Senior Bryce Edmister led the team with a 71.8 stroke average and set a 54-hole school record by shooting 6 under at the Turning Stone Tiger Intercollegiate. Edmister notched five top-10 finishes in the fall.
• Weber State (236): Weber State loses two of its contributors from last season’s America Sky Conference Championship, but returns its most important player, Jordan Herzog. Herzog, an All-America Sky Conference first-team selection last season, was the only Wildcat to notch a top-five finish last season and the team’s leader in stroke average. Herzog failed to record a top five finish in the fall, and Weber State finished in the bottom half of the field in each of its six events.
• North Dakota (292): North Dakota lost two of its three best players in terms of scoring average from a year ago, and three of its five contributors in the America Sky Championship. Its top returner is Collin Lervick, who posted a top-five finish in the Jackrabbit Fall Invitational earlier this season.
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Lance Ringler predicts who will win the conference title
Winning the conference title is the only way any of these seven teams can get into postseason play. Led by Evan Russell, Hartford will be looking to win the America Sky for the first time, but it will have to deal with Sacramento State who will be the favorite playing much closer to home.