University City

49ers will be among 30-team NCAA golf field

UNC Charlotte senior Raoul Mendad.
UNC Charlotte senior Raoul Mendad. CHARLOTTE SPORTS INFORMATION

Two weeks ago, Raoul Menard talked affectionately about the Charlotte golf team reaching the NCAA regionals after missing the field in 2014.

However, as the 49ers’ only senior, Menard made it clear that he wanted his final season to last through the NCAA championships, which begin later this month. Charlotte would have to finish as one of the top five teams at the Chapel Hill Regional to advance.

On May 14-16, Charlotte accomplished the unexpected: The 49ers entered the regional ranked 50th in the nation, one of nine ranked teams in the field. Charlotte won the tournament.

On May 29-31, Charlotte will be one of 30 teams at the NCAA championships competing in 54 rounds. The top 15 will play an additional round June 1.

For the final two days of the tournament, eight teams will play in a three-round tournament for the title.

This year’s NCAA championship appearance is Charlotte’s first since 2008. The 49ers also advanced in 2006 and 2007, when they tied for third, their best finish in program history.

As a team, Charlotte has played in an NCAA regional 10 of the last 11 years. In 2014, Franco Castro represented Charlotte as an individual.

The team missed the 2014 regional by the slimmest of margins. Regional bids are granted by overall ranking, which would have qualified Charlotte, but the 49ers fell two victories short of a .500 winning percentage, one of the requirements.

Fourth-year head coach Ryan Cabbage said his players didn’t talk much about the need to return to regionals this year, but at the same time they knew most of the team returned from last season and what expectations would be.

“They knew what the standard is here with Charlotte golf,” Cabbage said. “To their credit, they took care of business. For most of the spring season, they haven’t been on the bubble at all.… We felt pretty comfortable for the majority of the year that we would qualify for post-season play.”

Collegiate golf team rankings are determined by results in the fall and spring seasons. Charlotte opened the year on a high note, with a third-place finish at the Gopher Invitational in Minnesota. Charlotte sophomore Victor Wiggins, a transfer from Auburn, was the tournament’s medalist.

Wiggins’ hot start in fall set a pattern for the 49ers. While no player established himself as the team’s best, several sparked the team at different times.

Based on his Golfweek magazine national ranking, Wiggins earned second team all-Conference USA honors. Wiggins has Charlotte’s best stroke average for the year, but his four top-10 finishes tied him for the team lead with junior Riley Davenport, whose stroke average was fourth-best on the team.

The 49ers finished in the top five in five of seven spring tournaments, prior to the Conference USA tournament. That includes a first place at the Davidson Invitational, where Charlotte junior Thomas Rowland earned medalist honors, the only first-place finish by a 49er in spring.

At the Irish Creek Collegiate on April 11-12, Charlotte’s home tournament, junior Daniel Brantley was not in the 49ers’ lineup but played as an individual. Brantley tied for fourth, the highest finish of any Charlotte golfer, and was named C-USA’s Player of the Week.

“All around, I think it was a very solid year,” said Menard. “Nothing too flashy but good enough to obviously get a ranking and make it to regionals. So that was the goal.”

Menard and sophomore Seth Gandy have the 49ers’ second- and third-best stroke averages, respectively. The two tied for 13th at the Chapel Hill Regional, behind Wiggins and Rowland, who tied for fourth.

Menard and Cabbage both credited interim assistant coach Braeden Cryderman for helping with the team’s development this spring. Cryderman played for Charlotte in 2010-13 and was Menard’s roommate for a season.

Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at joehabina@gmail.com.

Upcoming events

May 28

▪ Men’s golf: NCAA Championship, Bradenton, Fla., 8 a.m.

▪ Men’s and women’s outdoor track and field: NCAA East Preliminary, Jacksonville, Fla., TBA.

May 29

▪ Men’s golf, at NCAA Championship, Bradenton, Fla., 8 a.m.

▪ Men’s and women’s outdoor track and field, at NCAA East Preliminary, Jacksonville, Fla., TBA.

May 30

▪ Men’s golf, at NCAA Championship, Bradenton, Fla., 8 a.m.

▪ Men’s and women’s outdoor track and field, at NCAA East Preliminary, Jacksonville, Fla., TBA.

May 31

Men’s golf, at NCAA Championship, Bradenton, Fla., 8 a.m.

Source: www.charlotte49ers.com.

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