Men's preview: No. 15 UNLV
In preparation for the upcoming college season, Golfweek is breaking down the rosters of each of its preseason top 30 teams.
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2011-2012 Golfweek rank: 16
Go-to guy: Kevin Penner
Season outlook: UNLV head coach Dwaine Knight has led the Rebels to 24 consecutive NCAA Regional appearances, 17 NCAA Championship appearances and a national title in 1998. But last May, Knight couldn’t travel with the team to its NCAA regional after having surgery to remove cancer from his foot.
Without their coach, the Rebels were tied for third after one round in Greensboro, N.C. But high scores the next two days dropped UNLV to eighth and ended its season.
Don’t expect that to happen again. Heading into this fall, Knight is healthy and the Rebels are set up to again contend for a national title. The loss of two-time All-American Derek Ernst, who led UNLV with a 71.4 stroke average in 2011-12, is a major one. But the Rebels return their next five best scorers from a year ago. Senior Kevin Penner was an honorable mention All-American as a junior and won the Sahalee Players Championship in July. He’ll fill the top spot vacated by Ernst, followed closely by junior Blake Biddle at No. 2.
Junior Nicholas Maruri and sophomores Carl Jonson and Kurt Kitayama also saw significant action last season, and Knight has brought in a strong recruiting class, led by A.J. McInerney.
UNLV finished second or better in seven of its first eight tournaments last season, but closed the regular season with a pair of fourth-place finishes and was T-3 at the Mountain West Championship before falling shy of an NCAA finals berth. Those late results weren’t horrible, but this year Knight and his squad hope to peak when it counts.