April 14, 2006
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - There will be much on the line this Monday and Tuesday as the Santa Clara University men's and women's golf teams travel to Copperopolis, California to compete in the WCC Championships at the Par-72, 5,823-yard Saddle Creek Golf Course. For both teams it will be a chance to solidify Santa Clara's lead in the Commissioner's Cup competition, but for the men it is also a chance to make school history.
The 54-hole tournament will open with 36 holes being played Monday with the final round of 18 being completed Tuesday morning. Pepperdine swept both ends of last year's tournament, as the men have won seven-straight WCC titles and the women four heading into the 2006 tournament.
Currently, the men's squad is ranked 54th in the nation by Golfweek magazine. The Broncos are the second-highest ranked school from the West Coast Conference, behind only No. 40 Pepperdine. Coming off of a third-place finish last season, the 2005-06 Broncos, with another top-three finish this year, could become the first SCU squad in school history to advance to the NCAA Regionals.
"Early on in the season, we set out a goal for ourselves [to qualify for Regionals]," said men's head coach Rob Miller. "They performed well enough early on to start to get some recognition, and that's important because there can be a lot of politics involved. If you're not considered to be a team that is expected to be there, you have to earn your way in and these guys have played well enough to earn that respect from the committees that do the rankings."
The Bronco quintet is a strong group that has already claimed four tournament titles this season and top-five finished in eight of the nine tournaments in which they have played. Seniors John Colyar and Michael Nicoletti, juniors Eric Lillibridge and Jong Yoon along with sophomore Tim Lynch have been Miller's big five lately and will look to keep things rolling in the conference championships.
Lillibridge and Yoon paced the squad last week in Pebble Beach as they each finished tied for 11th in the individual field.
Santa Clara got a good look at most of the competition they will face at Saddle Creek last week in the Saint Mary's/Merrill Lynch Invitational in Pebble Beach. With the exception of Pepperdine and San Diego, every team in the WCC participated, with the Broncos coming out as the top finisher among the conference schools. As long as SCU can continue to play solid golf, the team can claim at least a top-three finish and move on from there.
"Obviously we feel good about beating those five teams," Miller added about the SMC Tournament results. "The fact that two of the other top teams were not there, it doesn't make us that comfortable, but we're really looking forward to playing against San Diego, we've had some really close competitions with them. We're all looking to try to knock Pepperdine offm they've been the powerhouse in the conference so it should be an exciting tournament."
On the women's side of things, Santa Clara will look to build off of last year's third-place effort in Copperopolis. Thus far in 2005-06, the Bronco women have notched four top-five finishes and have one individual title to their credit as transfer Megan Stoddart opened her SCU career with a victory at the Bronco Fall Invitational in Boise, Idaho back in October.
Samantha Trask, a 2005 All-WCC performer with a 10th-place finish at last year's championships, will be another member of the Bronco squad that will prepare to make a run at Saddle Creek. Candice Palmer, a 14th-place finisher last year and Corey Utsurogi, who finished 19th in 2005, will also have spots in the SCU quintet.
Last weekend, the Broncos faced stiff competition at the Peg Barnard California Collegiate at the Stanford Golf Course, as most teams in the tournament were top-50 programs. The experience of facing off against top opponents raised SCU's game and served as solid preparation for this week's WCC Championships.
As of February 28, Santa Clara led the Commissioner's Cup standings with 43 points, 6.5 ahead of second-place Loyola Marymount. With top-three finishes next week, the Bronco program could retain a firm lead in the standings with only baseball, men's and women's tennis and women's crew remaining.