FILE: “We found success last year, but this is a different team,” seventh-year head coach Scott Lieberwirth said. “It’s the first tournament of the year, so you always want to get off on the right foot and get some positive momentum.” | Photo courtesy UTEP
The Conference USA champion UTEP men’s golf team learned on Thursday morning that it will be one of eight squads participating in the Sammamish (Wash.) NCAA Regional May 15-17. The regional will be contested at the Aldarra Golf Club with 54-hole stroke play as the format.
“I think it could be a great place for us to go,” UTEP coach Scott Lieberwirth said. “We haven’t been out to that golf course, and I don’t think many teams have. [Regional host] Washington has never hosted an event out there, so it’s going to be a new experience for any team besides Washington. I think that’s good in that we don’t have any teams with an advantage over another. I think it bodes well for us going back to cool season grass, something that most of our team has grown up with and is familiar with. I think that’s a definite positive for us.”
UTEP is seeded eighth in the regional and will be joined by top seed USC, no. 2 seed Kent State, no. 3 seed Texas A&M, no. 4 seed Florida State, no. 5 seed Washington, no. 6 seed Alabama, no. 7 seed San Diego State, no. 9 seed Penn State, no. 10 seed Michigan, no. 11 seed Michigan State, no. 12 seed Seattle, no. 13 seed Marquette and no. 14 seed Bryant.
“That’s maybe the drawback of going to this region in that at least in the top five lines, it’s statistically the toughest region having #1 [USC], #12 [Kent State] and #13 [Texas A&M] in that field,” Lieberwirth said. “We have seen USC. They are awesome. We know Texas A&M has had an extremely strong year. Washington, the host, is also very dangerous, especially on their home golf course. Alabama has come back and played really well later on this spring. We will definitely have our hands full.”
A total of 81 teams earned NCAA Regional bids and are disbursed among six regionals. The top five teams in each regional will advance to the NCAA Championship at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill. May 26-31.
“In the end, it is going to come down to how we execute and if we do a good job of that, I think we are going to position ourselves to get to the championship,” Lieberwirth said. “There’s nothing different. It’s still the same game we have played all year. The stakes are higher so it’s about managing our options, not getting ahead of ourselves and being patient, moreso this tournament than in any other tournament we’ll play.”
UTEP is participating in NCAA Regionals for the 14th time, and the first time since 2004. The Miners are tying to advance to the NCAA Championship for the first time since 1995.
“I’ll tell our guys to have fun. We don’t really have anything to lose at this point,” Lieberwirth said. “There are some higher ranked teams that sometimes play with a lot of pressure because of an expectation of getting to the national championship. We need to just go play golf and forget about any expectation. We’ll add the scores up at the end. And I think we do a pretty good job of that as a team in general, not really looking at leaderboards, not looking at where we’re placed, let’s just play well for us and if we have a good tournament, we’re going to be in that mix.”