The opportunity to compete for a national golf championship is right around the corner for the New Mexico men’s and women’s teams.
The Lobo women will play in the NCAA West Regional tournament starting Thursday at the Tumble Creek Club in Cle Elum, Washington. UNM, holding the 21st seed, will compete against eight teams ranked in Golfstat.com’s top 25 national poll, including No. 1 ranked USC.
The men, meanwhile, open their three-day tournament on May 15 in the Auburn Regional as the fifth seed.
Only Alabama, Virginia Tech, Texas and the hosting Tigers are seeded higher. All five top seeds are ranked in the Golfstat.com top 25, with the Lobos at No. 25. That regional features 14 teams.
The top five men’s teams and top eight women’s teams at the regional tournaments qualify for the national championship tournament. The NCAA women’s tourney takes place May 20-23 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, while the men’s championship event is May 23-28 in Hutchinson, Kansas.
“The obvious (goal) is to qualify for the national championship,” said Jill Trujillo, the women’s coach, in a release. “I would like nothing more than to give that to Sammi (Stevens) and Manon (De Roey) in their senior year — to take them to nationals and have them do well there.”
Both UNM squads head into their respective regional tournaments as Mountain West champions.
Gavin Green won the individual championship on the first playoff to help lead the Lobo men to a three-stroke victory over runner-up San Diego State. UNM carried a nine-stroke lead after the first two days and withstood a rally from the Aztecs to claim a second-straight conference title.
Four UNM golfers placed in the top 10 at the conference tourney in Tucson, Arizona. Along with Green’s title-winning 4-under par, Victor Perez shot 1-under for fifth, Sean Romero was seventh after shooting even, and Sam Saunders finished 10th at 2-over par.
The way UNM held on to capture its second straight conference crown should bolster the team’s confidence heading into the NCAA regionals, Green said Tuesday.
“As a team we all hung in there. We did it all,” he said. “We know we’ve been preparing for it. We knew our conference was going to be a good field, and regionals will be a really good field.”
Glen Millican, the men’s coach, said he hasn’t been to the Auburn University Club, but has heard it is a great golf course. He and the team will learn what they can about the course ahead of time and then play a practice round on the Wednesday before the tournament opens, he said.
The Lobos traveled to two tournaments in the southeast this year: one in Windermere, Florida, last September and another in Augusta, Georgia in April. The team schedules events in various regions not only to see different teams, but to get a feel for different types of courses, Millican said.
“Chipping and putting in that grass is different than what you see out west, but we’ve done what we can to prepare for that,” he said. “We’ve played in Georgia, we played in an event in Florida earlier this year, so we’ve gotten down into that stuff before. You just try to find out as much as you can about the course.”
The Lobo women had three top-10 finishers in their Mountain West tournament victory: Manon Mollé in fifth, De Roey in seventh and Stevens in ninth. As a team, UNM edged San Jose State by one stroke for the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA regional round.
“We knew we had to win conference if we wanted to go to regionals,” said Katerina Jaeger. “It was exciting that we won.”
Trujillo said each team that qualified for the NCAA tournament, including her own, worked hard in order to reach the regionals.
“I don’t even have to ask these young ladies to work hard. They do it on their own,” she said. “They have pride in what they do. They have pride in their teammates.”
Millican said it doesn’t necessarily require a Herculean effort to advance beyond regionals to the championship tournament, though it certainly would help. All his team needs to do, he said, is play solid golf from start to finish.
“Nobody has to do something they’ve never done before,” he said. “If they do play that great, that’s certainly going to give us a chance to win the tournament, if our guys play unbelievable. But if everybody just plays their own game, we’re going to be fine because when our guys play their own game they can compete with anybody.”