During the month of January, Golfweek will preview the spring season for each conference. Today, we look at the Sun Belt Conference:
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5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
• Top of the class: South Alabama
• Player to watch: Michael Garretson, South Alabama: Garretson was red hot in the fall, nabbing four individual top 10s in five tournaments.
• Freshman to watch: Fernando Cruz Valle, Louisiana-Lafayette: The rookie led the Ragin’ Cajuns with a sub-71 scoring average in the fall and is ranked the No. 50 golfer in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings.
• Conference championship: April 21-23, Grand Bear GC, Saucier, Miss.
• Past champions (since 2009): North Texas (2012-13), Denver (2011), South Alabama (2010), Middle Tennessee (2009)
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(Golfweek/Sagarin rank in parentheses)
- South Alabama (52): South Alabama notched three top 5s against strong competition this fall. The Jaguars notched a runner-up finish amid an impressive field at The Invitational at The Ocean Course. The team was led by Michael Garretson, who shot a low round of 65 and notched four top 10s. The Jaguars lost only one player from its 3rd-place team at the Sun Belt Championship last year, including individual champ Lane Hulse.
- Georgia State (57): With North Texas playing in Conference USA, Georgia State is the highest-finishing team from last year’s Sun Belt Championship in the conference. The team has five seniors on roster. Its best finish was at the AutoTrader.com Collegiate Classic, where it finished on top. Two players earned top-10 finishes in the fall – senior Tyler Gruca and freshman Nathan Mallonee.
- Troy (72): Troy played against some of the top talent in the country this fall, but only managed to pull out one top-5 finish. The team returns all five of its contributors from the Sun Belt Championship last year, where is finished sixth. Two individuals – Tolver Dozier and Phillip Brennan – posted a top 10 individually, and five different golfers owned a scoring average of 75 or less in the fall.
- Louisiana-Lafayette (76): The Ragin’ Cajuns started the fall hot, winning at the Sam Hall Intercollegiate. The team ended the fall with three total top 5s, led by freshman Fernando Cruz Valle. The rookie posted a 70.91 scoring average and a runner-up finish. The team’s six top golfers in the fall were underclassmen.
- Louisiana-Monroe (101): The Warhawks made great strides after finishing last at the Sun Belt Championship last year. The team took four top 5s in the fall, including a win at the Quail Valley Collegiate Invitational. A lot of that had to do with the play of senior Charlie MacNeal. He led the team with a 70.87 scoring average and two medalist finishes.
- Texas-Arlington (128): Texas-Arlington heads into the Sun Belt Conference fresh off of a second-place showing in the WAC and an appearance for one of its golfers at the NCAA Fayetteville Regional. But the team lost three of its five top golfers from last year, including Paul McConnell, who won the WAC. The team’s top finish in six fall tournaments was sixth-place at the Herb Wimberly Invitational.
- Arkansas-Little Rock (172): Arkansas-Little Rock posted two top 5s in the fall, including a win at the HBU Husky Invitational. The team returns four of its five contributors from last year’s Sun Belt Championship, where it finished fifth. Senior Nick Zimmerman was T-8 in the Sun Belt this fall with a 73 scoring average.
- Texas State (174): Texas State failed to crack the top 5 in any of its fall tournaments, but faced a tough schedule. The team heads into Sun Belt play from the WAC, where it finished in eighth place. Junior Tyler Thomas earned the top individual finish for a Bobcat in the fall when he finished runner up at the Cabo Del Sol Intercollegiate.
- Arkansas State (182): Senior Chance Holden led Arkansas State in the fall, nabbing two top fives and posting a 72.6 scoring average. The Red Wolves took one top 5 in the fall, and saw a major contribution from freshman Matt Loiacano, who recorded a 74.8 scoring average in 15 rounds. Arkansas State will be looking to improve upon its eighth-place finish at the Sun Belt Conference Championship last year.
- Western Kentucky (212): Western Kentucky highlighted the fall season with a win at the Dayton Flyer Invitational. Two of its golfers – Trey Aguirre and Cameron Beal – tied for second at the event. The Hilltoppers, however, did not finish higher than 10th in any of their five remaining fall tournaments. Aguirre, a sophomore, led the team with a 74 scoring average.