The Utah Valley University men's golf team begins the 2014 WAC Championship on Friday at the par-72, 7,066-yard Mountain Stallion Golf Club in Las Vegas, Nevada. It will be the first appearance for the Wolverines at the WAC Championship after competing over the last four seasons in the now-defunct America Sky Men's Golf Conference.
The three-day, 54-hole tournament will feature all nine WAC members, although Grand Canyon will not be allowed a team score as it makes its transition from NCAA Division II to Division I. The Antelopes will be allowed to compete individually, however. UVU is one of six programs making its first appearance in the WAC Championship field, joining fellow conference newcomers Bakersfield, Chicago State, GCU, Kansas City and Texas-Pan American. Rounding out the field are Idaho, reigning champion New Mexico State and Seattle U.
The Aggies of NM State have won the WAC Championship four of the last five years.
"After being humbled last week in California (a 12th-place finish at the El Macero Classic), the guys are hungry," Utah Valley head coach Chris Curran said. "This is the tournament we've worked so hard for all season. The first two days are all about getting into position for the final day and I think we've got what it takes to get into that position."
Brayden Eriksen leads the Wolverines into the Championship with a scoring average of 72.69. The junior ended this season with two runner-up finishes and closed six of 10 tournaments in the top 10 on the individual leaderboard. Having appeared in the last two ASC Championships, Eriksen will be making his third career start in a conference championship tournament.
Fellow junior Preston Richards is next on the squad in scoring average at 73.48 and is followed closely by JT Timmons, a true freshman and the only Wolverine to claim an individual title this year, at 73.74.
Michael Dart owns a scoring average of 75.04 and recently recorded the first top-five finish of his career at the Jackrabbit Invitational on March 18. Like Eriksen, he is making his third appearance at a conference championship.
Rounding out the Utah Valley squad is sophomore Clark Fredrickson. Fredrickson has appeared in just four tournaments this season, competing in two as an individual. This will be his first action since finishing tied for 21st at the Pat Hicks Invitational in early February.
UVU is paired in the first round with Idaho and NM State, and it will be a part of the first five groups off the tee Friday morning. Dart kicks off the Championship for the Wolverines at 7:30 a.m. MT, when he tees off at No. 1 alongside UI's Sean McMullen and NMSU's Zach Adams. All five UVU bags are expected to be out by 8:10 a.m.
"The golf course is one that I think we can take advantage of with our length off the tee," Curran said. "The wind could play a factor this week. We have performed well in the wind this year so I like our chances if the wind is up."
The team champion of the WAC Championship will automatically qualify for the NCAA Regional Tournament, which begins May 15. An individual may also automatically qualify should he claim medalist honors despite his team finishing outside the top spot. Utah Valley has sent an individual to the NCAA Regionals the last two years as former Wolverine Mason Casper earned back-to-back at-large selections.
Kellen Hiser is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company