Photo courtesy UTEP Athletics
The UTEP men’s golf team will join 12 other teams at the 2017 C-USA Men’s Golf Championship, teeing off Sunday morning at the Texarkana Country Club in Texarkana, Arkansas.
The teams will play the par 72, 6,969-yard course over three days, April 23-25, beginning with 54 holes of stroke play. Following the results of stroke play, the top four teams will advance to a seeded match play round on Wednesday, April 26, with the team champion earning C-USA’s automatic berth to the NCAA Regionals.
The Miners will begin to tee off at 9:20 a.m. CT (8:20 a.m. MT) on hole No. 1, along side top-seeded Middle Tennessee and North Texas. Seeding is based on current Golfstat rankings, Middle Tennessee is ranked No. 53, while UTEP sits at No. 55 and North Texas is No. 62 out of 292 teams. Rice and UTSA will tee off on hole No. 1, while defending champion LA Tech will tee off with Southern Miss and WKU on hole No. 10, all at 8 a.m. CT. At the 8:40 a.m. CT mark, Charlotte and UAB will begin their play on the first tee. Rounding out the teams will be Marshall, FAU and Old Dominion with a 8:50 a.m. CT start from the No. 10 tee.
“National ranking, its really been us and Middle Tennessee bouncing back and forth between the top ranked schools in our conference,” sixth-year head coach Scott Lieberwirth said. “But our conference does have quite a few schools that may not be ranked quite as high, but they’re still strong quality programs. North Texas is very good, Charlotte is good year in and year out, UAB has been a power team in our league for a long time; and then you can mix in others like UTSA, and Rice, who just came off a win.
“There’s a lot of teams that are capable of winning this championship. Especially with us going into match play and having that portion decide who our team champion is, I’d say there’s about eight or nine teams that have a legitimate chance [to win], its just a matter of who plays better.”
The core five vying for the championship for the Miners will be Frederik Dreier, Charles Corner, Aaron Terrazas, Nicklas Pihl, and Andreas Sorensen. In the 11 tournaments played, the at least three of the five have played in every tournament. Terrazas transferred from Oklahoma and began playing in the spring.
“We are going strong into the tournament instead of reeling into the tournament, so we feel like we’ve got a very strong and a very deep core,” Lieberwirth said. “That should help us not just in the stroke play, but if we were to make it in the match play portion of the championship, we should be able to be highly competitive. From a depth perspective, we’re the best that we’ve been all year.”
Dreier, Corner, Pihl, and Sorensen all participated in the 2016 C-USA Championships last year, helping the Miners to a sixth place finish.
“We have a very similar team to last year,” Lieberwirth said. “We have a majority of our starters returning, they’re all one year older and defiantly have all improved. Last year we had a nice team, but this year I think we’ve really broken out and individually. We’ve had guys really have some great performances in the fall and spring. We’ve been very consistent top to bottom in the spring.”
Dreier, the lone senior on the team, is the reigning C-USA Golfer of the Year, only the fourth golfer in program history to earn the honor. The Birkeroed, Denmark, native leads the team this season with total top-10 finishes (six) as well as the squad’s lowest round (64) in the final round of the Price’s Give ‘Em Five Invitational. He will enter his final conference tournament, where he placed sixth last year to earn his first ever berth to the NCAA Regional tournament, where he finished in 57th.
“He’s been fantastic, watching him grow from his freshman and sophomore year when he was just so close to being really good, and then really turning the corner his junior year and continuing that into his senior year,” Lieberwirth said of Dreier. “He’s been a leader on and off the golf course for us. He’s defiantly a guy that all the players and us coaches really look up to and respect.”
Corner earned his first ever C-USA Golfer of the Week honor on April 12 after his stellar play led to an eighth place finish and helped his team to a seventh place finish at the prestigious 71st Western Intercollegiate. The team bested then-No. 17 Texas, No. 25 Arizona State and No. 32 San Diego State after shooting 1,084 (361-356-367) in the 15-team field, which included eight nationally-ranked teams. Of the 96 players, Corner’s score was better than 19 players ranked in the Golfstat Top 100, including six of the top-10 players. The junior from Cayuga, Ontario, Canada has recorded a 72.5 scoring average, third-best on the UTEP squad, and tallied three top-10 finishes this year in 10 tournaments, with his work at the Western Intercollegiate marking the first time he was the top finisher for UTEP this year.
Terrazas joined the Miners this spring after transferring from Oklahoma and has found his name in the top-250 of Golfweek collegiate rankings. The sophomore had his best showing in the Orange and Blue at the Lone Star Invitational, where he tied for sixth with 7-under 209.
Pihl has recorded back-to-back top finishes for the Miners at the National Invitational Tournament and the Border Olympics. The junior boasts a 73.3 stroke average in 29 rounds played while finishing in the top-50 of each event eight times.
Sorensen has two runner-up showings under his belt from the fall season as well as eight top-50 finishes in 11 events. Along side three top finishes for the Miners, the sophomore has a 72.75 stroke average and shot a career-low round of 66 in the opening round of the Price’s Give ‘Em Five Invitational. He was named the C-USA Golfer of the Week for the week of Sept. 14, his first ever, after his runner-up performance at the Gene Miranda Invitational helped the Miners to their first team title of the fall. He was on the C-USA All-Freshman team last year.
“Charles Corner has put together a quiet, very good year,” Lieberwirth said. “Aaron Terrazas, a transfer from Oklahoma who came in spring for us, has already got his name ranked in the top 250 in the country just in the five tournaments that he’s played and started for us, he’s been great too. Nicklas Pihl, this is probably his best semester from a consistency stand point, he’s always been right there between the top-10 and no worse than middle of the pack. We’ve got a bunch of guys that we can count on and that we are going to give us good, consistent performances.
“That’s probably the biggest difference between this year’s team and previous teams. Previous year’s teams were more of a wild card, we knew we had some talent, we just didn’t know which guy would show up on any given day. This team is fairly predictable, we know we’re going to get great effort and we’ve seen very good results.”
The conference tournament will be the beginning of the end of an incredible season for the Miners, which saw three tournament titles in the fall and 10 top-10 finishes in eleven tournaments.
“We had some really outstanding individual performances that allowed us to win,” Lieberwirth said. “This spring, we haven’t had those top-10, top five, individual performances as often, but more tournaments than not, we’ve had all five starters in the top half of the field. From depth perspective, that helps us. We just need one or two of those guys to really catch fire, that’s when we’ll be real dangerous.”
The Miners also have eyes set beyond the conference tournament, at the NCAA Regional tournament, where the goal is to make it as a team.
“These are extremely competitive players, which makes it a real joy to coach,” Lieberwirth said. “When you have players that are as or even more competitive than the coach is, then you know you have a good team on your hands. That’s exactly how these guys are. They want to win for the team but they want to win individually too. I think that’s good, you want to have those individual goals because if you perform well individually, then the team is going to take care of itself.”