UVU golf: Wolverines look to build off last year's success for the upcoming season
OREM — At the conclusion of the 2009-10 season, Utah Valley University men's golf was scraping the bottom of the barrel of NCAA Division I with a national ranking of 297 — its lowest-ever ranking since jumping to DI.
Cue the arrival of head coach Chris Curran in 2010-11 and a wealth of new talent teeing it up for the Wolverines, and those days have become a distant memory.
Over the last three seasons, UVU men's golf has steadily climbed the national rankings, now sitting inside the NCAA's top-150. Prompting that surge have been 12 top-five finishes within that span, the program's first DI win at the Battle in the Tetons in 2011, and the first appearance by a Wolverine golfer at the NCAA Regional tournament in Mason Casper. Utah Valley has all the looks of a program on the rise, and Curran believes his squad is ready for the next big step.
"It would be huge for us to be able to break into the NCAA Regional as a team," Curran said. "Our name has gotten out there with Mason qualifying as an individual each of the last two years, but qualifying as a team would be monumental because it gives us a shot to compete for a national title. We see it all the time: a team gets into the dance, gets hot and makes a run. We know that if we can just make it to Regionals, anything can happen."
The Wolverines almost achieved that goal in 2012-13, racking up six top-five finishes through 10 events on the year. UVU finished second at the Dash Thomas Memorial and third at the Battle of the Tetons and the Snowman Getaway — all tournaments the Wolverines will return to in 2013-14. The strong regular season put UVU in a great position entering the America Sky Conference Tournament, but it ultimately came up just shy of the automatic bid, finishing four shots behind tournament champion Houston Baptist. Still, the Wolverines remain poised to compete right away for that top spot as they enter the Western Athletic Conference.
"Last year we had a very successful season with a lot of great finishes and came very close in the conference championship," Curran said. "With four returners from the conference tournament team returning, I think the experience they gained of being so close to the NCAA tournament is going to carry over to this season. Also, we were very successful against WAC schools in the tournaments we played last year so I feel confident that we can be right there in the thick of things on the final day of the WAC Championship."
One of the challenges facing Utah Valley this season is the transition into life without program-great Mason Casper. The Springville, Utah, native was the first Wolverine golfer to compete in the NCAA postseason, qualifying as an individual during his junior and senior seasons. He was also a two-time ASC Golfer of the Year with 11 top-10 finishes and three career victories. But UVU returns five members of last season's successful squad, four of whom sat right behind Casper on the team's scoring average rankings.
In all, seven Wolverines with tournament experience return for the 2013-14 season as sophomores Noah Cook (Gilbert, Ariz.) and Clark Fredrickson (Springville, Utah) return from redshirts. The only newcomer is freshman JT Timmons (Holladay, Utah).
"The guys have been playing all summer long and a lot of them have been playing very well," Curran said. "We've only got one senior, but we truly are a veteran crew with our three juniors and two redshirt sophomores. Those guys have a lot of tournament experience and I think it gives us a team with good chemistry and a lot of ability."
That lone senior is Stratton Schulz (Vernal, Utah), who competed in eight tournaments for UVU a year ago and was fourth on the team in scoring average at 75.04. Schulz had a productive summer, advancing to the Round of 32 at the Utah State Amateur Championship and also earning recognition as a Cleveland Golf/Srixon All-America Scholar.
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