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UNLV golf coaches look forward to spring season

UNLV men’s golf coach Dwaine Knight saw his team have a fantastic fall, with victories in its opening and closing tournaments, along with the emergence of sophomore Derek Ernst.

UNLV women’s golf coach Missy Ringler saw her team have a fluctuating fall, as it struggled a bit to maintain consistent play.

Yet Ringler is just as optimistic as Knight for the spring season, realizing a few minor adjustments — ones her squad is certainly capable of making — could put the Rebels right back among the nation’s elite.

"We were very up and down – I think that’s a good way to put it," Ringler said. "I’d say I’m disappointed with some of our results, especially after being ranked 18th in the preseason. A couple things just didn’t click in the fall, so it’s good that the season is a year long. The players are actually very excited and focused for the spring."

Ringler’s biggest point of emphasis between now and Feb. 22, when the season resumes, will be her team’s play on par-5 holes.

"One of our biggest issues is we haven’t been where we need to be in par-5 scoring," she said. "We didn’t make as many birdies as we needed to, and I think that was a major drawback for us.

"We were struggling at some times to make pars. You turn a tide of four or five shots when other teams are making birdies, and you’re making bogey. That hurt us in the fall, and it’s something we definitely need to improve on going into the spring season."

Ironically enough, Ringler’s squad was in the top 10 in the country in par-3 scoring.

"That was an interesting dynamic," she said of her team’s struggles on par-5s compared with the successes on par-3s. "I was pleasantly surprised to see how we can do. Being in the top 10 in the country on par-3s, that shows we have very good ball strikers."

Knight’s team got out of the gate quickly, winning the season-opening William H. Tucker Invitational in Albuquerque, N.M., then capping the fall with another victory in New Mexico, at the Herb Wimberly Intercollegiate in Las Cruces.

"I was pleased with that," Knight said. "I thought we were pretty consistent throughout the fall and had some really good play. In both of those wins, we led from start to finish and felt like we were one of the better teams."

UNLV also had a pair of third-place efforts, at the Gene Miranda Invitational in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate in Birmingham, Ala. In fact, the Rebels’ worst effort was a tie for eighth — out of 15 teams — at the stacked PING/Golfweek Invitational in Bremerton, Wash.

Knight expected better at the PING, but he still drew positives from the event, looking ahead to spring.

"I though we’d play well, but it was still good for us to play there, because that’ll be one of the regional sites," he said. "So I thought that was really a beneficial tournament for us."

Both Knight and Ringler got some key efforts from younger players — Ernst for Knight, and freshman Ellis Keenan for Ringler. Keenan quickly stepped up, after coming over from London to join the Rebels.

She led UNLV in the season-opening Golfweek Conference Challenge at Primm Valley Golf Club, finishing 18th in the field of 88, and she was steady throughout the fall.

"Ellis came in and played very well," Ringler said. "She’s on track to be (Mountain West Conference) freshman of the year and be on the all-conference team."

Ringler couldn’t overstate the impact of having a freshman produce immediate results.

"That’s huge, because obviously when we’re recruiting, that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to get someone better, who can compete with our top five. She competed with the No. 2 or 3 spot most of the season."

Therese Koelbaek is entrenched at No. 1 for Ringler, who expects the junior to contend for All-America honors in the spring.

For Knight, the surprise came from Ernst, who tied for medalist honors with teammate Colby Smith in the season opener and also shared first place in the final tournament of the fall. Ernst added third-, seventh- and 12th-place finishes in the other three tournaments, leading UNLV each time.

"We got a lot of good play out of our young guys, especially with Derek getting two wins," Knight said. "Golfstat has him ranked sixth in the nation. He really is one of the best players in the country. He was really solid, really consistent in every tournament."

Smith is also a sophomore, and Knight said freshman Kevin Penner has added some solid play, as well.

Knight expects seniors Eddie Olson and Brett Kanda to finish strong come spring.

"They had mixed results in the fall," he said. "But if they reach their stride, it could be a pretty good ride for us in the spring."

As always, the goal for Knight and Ringler is to reach their respective NCAA Championships, and depth could make that a reality for Knight.

"The thing that’s really good for us is that we do have some depth that everybody can count on to help out," he said. "The seniors don’t have to press; they can just relax and play their game. That’s going to be a big benefit down the road."

Ringler is aiming to get back to the NCAAs after her team bowed out in the West Regional last year.

"That’s definitely the goal," she said. "I feel very confident that we have the team to win conference, and we have the team to get us back to nationals.

"As a coach, I need to motivate them and make sure they understand this is what’s important and what we have to fight for. We want to win conference and make it back to nationals."

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