College Men

Vandy overcomes Schwab injury, ready for NCAAs

Vanderbilt's Hunter Stewart
Vanderbilt's Hunter Stewart ( Photo Courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics )

Thursday, May 22, 2014

HUTCHINSON, Kan. – Winning a national title is a tough task. Doing it without arguably your best player makes the challenge remarkably more difficult.

Vanderbilt prefers not to look at it that way. The Commodores will play the NCAA Championship without freshman Matthias Schwab, who has been out since early spring with a stress fracture in his lower back. But the thought of winning it all this week is no less real for the No. 13 team in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.

"It didn't make us a worse team," Vanderbilt head coach Scott Limbaugh said. "Our margin of error just went down."

Schwab posted three finishes of sixth or better, including a season-opening victory at the Carmel Cup, and led the team in scoring average (72.15) before his injury, which occurred after Vanderbilt's fifth-place showing at the SMU Querencia Cabo Collegiate.

But the Commodores won their next start, at the Talis Park Challenge, before closing the regular season with second-place finishes at the Mason Rudolph Championship and Reunion Intercollegiate. Then, after a tough 11th-place showing at the SEC Championship, Vanderbilt finished third at the NCAA San Antonio Regional.

"Losing Matthias is not something that we wanted, but we haven't felt sorry for ourselves," Vanderbilt junior Hunter Stewart said. "We never looked at it like we were doomed. We never threw in the towel."

Stewart and senior Charlie Ewing have led the charge since Schwab's season ended. They arrive at Prairie Dunes Country Club with a combined 12 top-10 finishes this season, and scoring averages of 72.25 and 72.56, respectively.

Sophomore Carson Jacobs tied for medalist honors at Talis Park and has played every subsequent tournament after having made just one start in the fall. Juniors Ben Fogler and Jordan Janico, the final two players making the trip to Kansas, also have seen increased action this spring.

"The guys know that you have to step up and make the team stronger when your number is called," Limbaugh said.

This week, the Commodores will have the same starting lineup for two consecutive tournaments for the first time all season. Janico replaced sophomore Zack Jaworski after the SEC Championship, where the Commodores had their worst showing of the season. "We just didn't do the simple things right at SECs," Limbaugh said.

Limbaugh, now in his second year at Vanderbilt, knows building a program takes time. But it's also hard to ignore the success that he's had so far: Vanderbilt is making its first NCAA Championship appearance since 2007.

"There's not a player on our team this week that I recruited, but they understood me," said Limbaugh, who previously served as an assistant coach at Alabama. "When I walked in, there was instant respect."

Said Stewart: "He set the bar, told us what we had to do and how we had to do it, and we went to work. We know we're making progress. . . . We just go each week, play our best and leave everything out there."

In San Antonio, Vanderbilt took a big step toward becoming the elite program that Limbaugh envisioned when he arrived in Nashville, Tenn., two years ago. The Commodores shot a second-round 15-under 273, which was the best round of the tournament by eight shots.

"Shooting that round showed us how good we can really be," Stewart said.

Said Limbaugh: "I'm really proud for our guys. Everyone was saying we wouldn't be able to (make it to the NCAA Championship without Schwab) this year, and our guys have used that as motivation."

Limbaugh has introduced a culture at Vanderbilt by which being average is no longer acceptable. It's a challenge that the Commodores have embraced.

"I tell our guys that anybody can be good," Limbaugh said, "but it takes special people to be great."

Even without Schwab in the lineup, Vanderbilt still aspires to be great.