It has become a familiar story for UNLV’s men’s golf team at this time of the year.
It’s time for the Mountain West championships, which means the NCAA Regionals are just around the corner. It also brings up the question why the Rebels, who have had very talented teams over the years, have failed to capture the title. UNLV, which is ranked No. 28 in the Golfweek Collegiate Poll, last won the Mountain West team title in 2002.
Play in the 54-hole, stroke play event begins at 7 a.m. Friday at Tucson National Golf Club in Arizona (par 71, 7,144 yards) and coach Dwaine Knight said UNLV is long overdue to win the trophy.
“It’s important for us to try and win the conference,” Knight said. “We’ve had some individual success over the years but we haven’t been able to finish as a team. We’ve a had a lot of heartbreak.”
UNLV has had a good spring season to date, winning its own Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters and the Jackrabbit Invitational in Primm last month. In their most recent tournament, the Rebels finished fourth at the Robert Kepler Invitational in Columbus, Ohio, on April 13. But from this point on, it’s truly pressure golf and Knight said it’s important to build momentum toward next month’s NCAA Regionals, the fields to be determined on May 5.
“This is what we point toward every year,” he said. “Our goal is to compete for a national championship so you want to go into the regionals playing well.”
Knight has shuffled his lineup for the Mountain West, adding junior Nicholas Maruri and sitting talented freshman Taylor Montgomery. Maruri, who has yet to compete for the Rebels this year after suffering a broken right ankle in a car accident during the winter break, outplayed Montgomery and freshmen Redford Bobbitt and Chris Tuulik in a series of qualifying matches to gain the final spot.
The rest of UNLV’s lineup is familiar — juniors Kurt Kitayama and Carl Jonson and sophomores Zane Thomas and AJ McInerney. Kitayama is ranked 59th nationally among individuals in Division I.
“Nico has been playing well and he put it all together in this qualifying round,” Knight said of Maruri, who had some big rounds during last year’s NCAA Championships. “He’s been through a lot, first with the broken wrist, then the broken ankle, which the doctors had to reset. But he’s a tough kid and I think his experience will be big for us.
“Taylor’s been a little inconsistent lately and it’s not easy for a freshman. But he’s certainly capable of playing himself back into the lineup for regionals.”
Knight said the play of Thomas has given the team a lift.
“I think Zane’s starting to understand the balance of school and golf,” Knight said of the former Arbor View High School star. “He’s got his priorities right and he’s putting it all together. His consistency off the tee has been better and he’s giving himself chances to score.”
Knight said New Mexico, which is ranked No. 22 in the nation and is led by Gavin Green, who is ranked No. 28 nationally among individuals, and San Diego State, which is ranked No. 35, are the major obstacles for the Rebels in trying to end the conference title drought. The Rebels are paired with the Lobos in Friday’s opening round.
“They’re both excellent teams with a lot of depth,” Knight said. “I think we match up well and if we keep the ball in play, which can be tricky because it gets windy there, and we give ourselves some chances to make some putts, we can be right there.”
Fans can track daily play in the tournament online at Golfstat.com
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.