In his 23 years coaching golf at UNLV, Dwaine Knight has always preached the importance of family to his players. Now he must put his family first.
Knight will be in Texas for an uncle’s funeral when UNLV tees off Thursday in the first round of an NCAA Regional tournament in San Diego.
"It was unexpected," Knight said of the death of his mother’s brother last weekend. "But I think our guys will respond. Good teams rise to the occasion, and this is a good team."
First-year assistant coach Daron Dorsey will handle the team in Knight’s absence.
Second-seeded UNLV will play the first round with top-seeded Oregon and No. 3 Augusta State at Carlton Oaks Golf Club.
It’s the first time in 33 years of being in the postseason (at New Mexico and UNLV) that Knight has missed an event. He said it was unavoidable given his mother’s inability to travel by herself.
His players understand.
"Family takes precedent over golf," senior Eddie Olson said. "We feel bad for Coach’s loss, and we want to move on so (Knight) can coach us again at the (NCAA) Championships."
The Rebels, who haven’t qualified for nationals since 2006, must finish in the top five in the 13-team field to advance to next month’s NCAA Championship at Chattanooga, Tenn.
To reach nationals, UNLV will need strong play from its top three — Olson and sophomores Derek Ernst and Colby Smith — and a good effort from senior Brett Kanda and freshman Kevin Penner.
"Everyone is ready for the challenge," said Olson, who finished second May 6 at the Mountain West Conference championships, where UNLV took third. "I’m feeling comfortable and confident. Derek has played great all year, and Colby has been coming on. If we can put three solid rounds together, we can make it."
Knight said his team can score well at Carlton Oaks but admitted there’s little margin for error because of the format.
"There’s so many good teams, and there’s only five spots," he said. "You have to play well all three days."
The Rebels have played consistent golf all year, Knight said, but will need a team effort to keep their season going.
"It’s going to take everybody," he said. "Eddie’s back playing at a high level. Derek’s had a great year, and being named conference player of the year has boosted his confidence. Colby’s been playing well of late, and I worked with Brett last week and he appears to be back on his game. I think we’re as ready as we can be."
Olson, who got his business degree two weeks ago and has recovered from a right thumb injury suffered in mid-April, said he is not ready for his college career to end.
"My goal has been the same since the first day I got to UNLV, to win a national championship," he said. "This is my last chance, so I’m not holding anything back."
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913.