Illini Strive for Seventh-Straight NCAA Finals Berth
May 13, 2014
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Illinois men's golf team will aim for its seventh-straight NCAA Championships berth when it takes the course as the No. 2 seed in the 14-team NCAA Sugar Grove Regional at Rich Harvest Farms Thursday through Saturday. The Fighting Illini, who won the Fayetteville Regional in 2013 for the first regional title in school history, will face what Golfweek Magazine surmised "might be the most competitive region from top to bottom" at the par-72, 7,151-yard track outside Chicago.
"I think it's going to be a great regional," Illinois head coach Mike Small said. "The top five seeds speak for themselves and we've got teams like Clemson and Purdue and Kent State who are outside the top five but are playing some pretty good golf. This time of year, the rankings go out, the records go out and it's a brand new season. Last year, we went in to the regional as a seven seed, won the regional and ended up finishing second in the country. So things like that can happen. You've got to come out ready to play."
The top five teams and top individual not on a qualifying team will advance to the 2014 NCAA Championships at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kansas, May 23-28. Illinois is one of only six schools to reach the NCAA Championships in each of the last six seasons but one of those schools - Florida - did not qualify for a regional this season, meaning the Illini could move up that list if they advance through the regional stage.
Illinois starts play at Rich Harvest Farms Thursday, May 15, at 8 a.m. off hole No. 1 alongside top-seeded California and No. 3 seed Southern California. In addition to the Golden Bears and Trojans, the Illini are joined in the Sugar Grove Regional by No. 4 seed UAB, No. 5 UNLV, No. 6 Clemson, No. 7 Kent State, No. 8 Purdue, No. 9 Mississippi State, No. 10 Cal State Fullerton, No. 11 New Mexico State, No. 12 Jacksonville State, No. 13 Cleveland State and No. 14 St. Peter's. Niall Platt (Notre Dame), Chris O'Neill (Michigan), Danny Pizetoski (Richmond), Juan Veloza (Towson) and Rob van de Vin (IUPUI) will be competing as individuals.
"It's a well-respected golf course that is very private and exclusive. Jerry Rich has done a great job building it and designing it. It's hosted the Solheim Cup, which is the LPGA version of the Ryder Cup, it's hosted an NCAA Regional before and I think it's in the mix for future NCAA finals. It's a good golf course. It's tricky. It's a course that we're going to have to be ready for."
The Illini reached the NCAA Regional after finishing second at the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago in French Lick, Indiana. Illinois has three tournament titles to its credit this season and has been ranked in the top 10 of the Golf World/Nike Golf Division I Coaches Poll all season.
Illinois is 10-1 head-to-head against other teams in the regional field, including an 8-0 mark during the spring portion of the season. Only California finished better than the Illini in a tournament, placing third at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational in October, an event where Illinois took fifth. The Orange and Blue have finished ahead of UNLV, Clemson, Purdue, Kent State and New Mexico State in tournaments this season.
California took the top regional seed after finishing third at the Pac-12 Championships, while USC finished fifth. UAB finished second at the Conference USA Championships and UNLV took third at the Mountain West Championships. Clemson placed third at the ACC Championships, while Kent State earned the automatic bid from the Mid-American Conference.
Purdue finished fifth at Big Ten Championships and Mississippi State tied for ninth at the SEC Championships, while Cal State Fullerton, New Mexico State, Jacksonville State, Cleveland State and St. Peter's each won their conference's automatic bid.
Cal's Brandon Hagy is the top-ranked player in the field, standing at No. 7 in the Golfweek/Sagarin individual rankings, while fellow Bear Joel Stalter is at No. 17. USC's Rico Hoey is at No. 22 and Cal State Fullerton's Mark Anguiano is No. 40. Illini junior Brian Campbell stands at No. 45, rounding out the top-50 golfers in the regional field.
After using the same lineup throughout the season, Illinois will switch its fifth golfer as junior Alex Burge qualified ahead of sophomore David Kim during the team's recent qualifying rounds. Burge joins Campbell, Charlie Danielson, Thomas Detry and Jonathan Hauter as the five Illini to make the trip. Friday's second round begins at 8 a.m., with Saturday's final round starting at 7:30 a.m.
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