Aug 27, 2013
OREM, Utah -- 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," said Curran. "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 both 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," said Curran. "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 both 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. Still, UVU returns five members of last season's highly 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," said Curran. "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.
"Stratton has been a key guy for us for the last three years," said Curran. "He's had a great summer and I'm looking for him to lead us on and off the golf course this season. He's such a solid player and I expect him to have a great season."
Making up the team's junior contingent are Michael Dart (Toronto, Canada), Brayden Eriksen (Qualicum Beach, Canada) and Preston Richards (Sandy, Utah). Dart will look to build on a 2012-13 season in which he held the team's third-best scoring average at 75.00 and earned three top-20 finishes. Eriksen rounded out UVU's top-five scorers last year at 76.55 strokes per round, and saved his best for last when he tied for 11th at the ASC Tournament -- his season's best finish. Richards competed in just four tournaments as a sophomore, recording a season-low round of 75 at the Battle in the Tetons.
Headlining the sophomore class is Corey Eccles, an Ile Bizard, Canada, native. He holds UVU's best returning scoring average at 74.79 and had a season-best finish of 15th at the Dash Thomas Memorial as a true freshman. Eccles continued his rise over the summer, winning the Men's Provincial Match Play Championship in his native Quebec.
"With a year under his belt, I think that Corey will continue to be that much better," Curran said. "He's just a really solid player. I expect him to improve and maybe even have our top scoring average this year."
After holding the second best scoring average on the team in 2009-10, Cook returns after a redshirt season and will carry high expectations from his coach.
Added Curran, "Noah was another guy that had a really solid summer and I think that after not playing last season, he has a lot of hunger and desire to put together a big year for us."
Also returning from a redshirt is Fredrickson, who held a stroke average of 78.10 in seven tournaments as a true freshman back in 2011-12.
Timmons, who advanced to the Round of 32 at the State Am alongside Schulz and Richards, rounds out the roster for the Wolverines.
Utah Valley begins the year in Victor, Idaho, at the Battle in the Tetons on Sept. 2. The Wolverines have had a great deal of success over the years at the Headwaters Golf Club, claiming the top spot in 2011 before finishing in a tie for third a season ago.
"We're excited for the Battle in the Tetons because it's an opportunity for us to get the season started off on the right note," explained Curran. "We took third there last year and that was a finish we weren't very happy with. So we are looking to go up there and get a win and get the season rolling."
Another tournament Curran has circled on the calendar is the Bandon Dunes Championship in Bandon, Ore.
"We'll face some of the best competition at Bandon," said Curran. "Probably four or five of the top-25 teams in the country will be there so it's a good experience for us to gauge where we're at as a program and see where we can improve in order to reach that next level."
The 2013-14 slate will also take the Wolverines to tournaments in California, Arizona, and Nevada, not to mention a stop at the Utah Invitational in Park City on Oct. 7. It all leads to May 2 with the first day of the WAC Championships in Henderson, Nev.