Believe it or not, the start of another college golf season is just a few short weeks away. To get you ready, Asher Wildman will break down the top 60 teams for both the men and women. Today, it’s No. 54 on the board with the UNC-Wilmington men and New Mexico women.
NORTH CAROLINA-WILMINGTON MEN
2010-11 final ranking: 54
Coach: Matt Clark (fourth year)
Top returnees: Payne McLeod (CAA Freshman of the Year last season), Thomas Bass
Top newcomers: Dylan Harris of Southern Pines, N.C.
Projected starting 5: Payne McLeod (So.), Thomas Bass (Jr.), Patrick Sawrey (So.), Stefan Brewer (Jr.), Ryan Nagy (So.)
Key losses: Josh Brock
Key fall tournament: The Ridges at ETSU
2010-11 recap: North Carolina-Wilmington won four team titles and four individual titles last season, including a team victory at the CAA Championship, its first since 2005. That sent the Seahawks to their second consecutive NCAA regionals appearance.
“The team gained a lot from last year, because winning isn’t easy in college golf,” UNC-Wilmington coach Matt Clark said. “ I think we saw that we were good enough to play with a lot of teams in the country, but (we) need to do it week in, week out.”
The Seahawks finished outside the top 5 only four times, but failed to advance to the NCAA Championship, finishing 11th at regionals.
Player to watch: Patrick Sawrey. “He’s a guy that could shock people with a good season this year,” Clark said. “He has a solid all-around game, but is great with competition. He will bring his competitive edge to practice and to the team every day. He knows how to hit clutch shots.”
2011-12 preview: UNCW enters this season with a big part of its recent success missing. Josh Brock graduated, which means the Seahawks’ new No. 1 might be Payne McLeod, last season’s CAA Freshman of the Year.
Clark has his top two players locked in with McLeod and Thomas Bass, but the coach says the rest of the starting slots are up in the air.
“I think we are deeper then we have ever been,” Clark said. “There will be serious battles for the 3-5 spots in the lineup. Hopefully, everyone pushes each other so it can help us get to Riviera (Country Club, site of the 2012 NCAA Championship).”
One player Clark is looking to improve is 6-foot-5 sophomore Ryan Nagy, the cousin of former Charlotte player Cory Nagy. Ryan hits it 330 yards off the tee, though parts of his game are still raw. “I’m hoping he’ll be like his cousin Cory and excel in college golf,” Clark said.
Bottom line: If McLeod and Bass can give UNCW a strong 1-2 punch – Clark is hopeful they can lower their scoring averages by half a shot each – then the Seahawks have a good shot to repeat as CAA champs. And if the bottom half of the lineup shapes up the way Clark envisions, UNCW should be a lock for an at-large regional bid, even if it doesn’t win the conference.
NEW MEXICO WOMEN
2010-11 final ranking: 54
Coach: Jill Trujillo (fourth year)
Top returnees: Rebecca Hellbom, Sammi Stevens, Manon de Roey
Top newcomers: None
Projected starting 5: Rebecca Hellbom (Sr.), Sammi Stevens (So.), Beth Buchner (Jr.), Sarah Salvo (Sr.), Manon de Roey (So.)
Key losses: None
Key fall tournament: Betsy Rawls
2010-11 recap: New Mexico making it to the postseason was questioned by some. Yes, the Lobos had a tough schedule, but they had only one top-5 finish all year – a fourth-place showing at the Mountain West Conference Championship. Overall, the Lobos had a head-to-head record of 55-95, including 0-40 against top-25 teams in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings and only 37-95 vs. the top 100. “It was difficult in a few ways,” coach Jill Trujillo said. “We lost All-American Jodi Ewart, but we also lost Britney Choi and her leadership.”
New Mexico’s top-ranked individual last season was Rebecca Hellbom at No. 245. The Lobos’ season ended with a 19th-place finish at the NCAA West Regional.
Player to watch: Rebecca Hellbom. “We haven’t seen the best of her yet,” Trujillo said. She has it in her, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she won a few tournaments this year.”
2011-12 preview: Trujillo will start the season knowing that all five starters from a year ago are returning. On one hand, she had freshmen in the line-up who gained valuable experience. On the other hand, this is the same group that had a tough time beating anyone last year.
“I’m very confident about this year,” Trujillo said. “Year to year, your players improve and I’m expecting everyone to come back better.”
Over the past 10 years, New Mexico has been a consistent top-30 program, so finishing No. 54 last season was a bit humbling.
“As far as standards go, last year was not our best year,” Trujillo said. “I think seeing our name down so far was a big blow to these girls.”
For New Mexico to return to the top 30, it will have to find a legitimate No. 1 atop their lineup, with Hellbom and sophomore Manon de Roey two leading candidates. As a freshman, de Roey showed flashes of brilliance, but at other times was still adjusting to college life and being away from her native Belgium.
One advantage New Mexico has is its schedule. It typically stays on the West Coast and competes mostly against perennial powerhouses from the Pac-12 Conference, giving the Lobos the chance to improve their ranking with a strong performance or two.
Bottom line: If a new No. 1 emerges and all five players take a step forward, then the Lobos can get return to the top 30; otherwise, this team is staying put or improving its numbers only slightly. Expect to see the Lobos reach a regional – this time without criticism – but continue to struggle against top competition.