HUTCHINSON — The smiles only lasted long enough for the pictures.
For a brief moment, the five young men enjoyed a feat everyone in the room thought was a foregone conclusion. Their grizzled coach stood at the forefront with another trophy clutched in his hands. For the fifth straight year, he let a grin cover his face for the camera.
When you play golf for Wichita State under Grier Jones, success is handled with respect. There was no lavish celebration when the Shockers claimed their fifth consecutive Missouri Valley Conference championship and 11th in the last 14 years Tuesday at Prairie Dunes Country Club.
Thats because tomorrow the work starts again, WSUs Calvin Pearson said. This is just a step toward our ultimate goal, which is to do well in regionals and make it to nationals. We still have a lot of work to do, but this was a step in the right direction.
Wichita State earned an automatic bid to an NCAA regional tournament with a three-round team score of 877, 18 strokes better than second place. The Shockers will find out their regional destination on Monday.
Jones has a good instinct about this team because of how consistent theyve been all season. Hunter Sparks carded a 7-over 217 to win medalist honors by a stroke, while Pearson (221), Rafael Becker (222), Louis Cohen Boyer (222) and Tyler Gann (223) were in the top 10.
According to GolfWeek.com, WSUs stroke average of 71.78 is the best in the nation. Sparks became the fourth Shocker to win a tournament this spring and all five have registered a top-10 finish.
In the past, weve had good teams but we were top-loaded, Jones said. This year everybody feels like they have a chance to win it each week. I think this year, more than others, was about the consistency amongst the five guys.
Sparks embodied that consistent nature the last two days. Instead of attempting ambitious shots, Sparks played it safe in his three rounds. The junior only birdied five times, but the reward was no three-putts and any score higher than bogey.
I didnt take any risks and gripped down on my driver and hit it under the wind to keep it in the fairway, Sparks said. Thats where you run into trouble is when you hit it in the tall stuff. It feels great to finally get back in the winners circle.
Gusting winds made Prairie Dunes difficult to score on, but WSU separated itself from its competition by remaining steady. While teams around the Shockers imploded, their five golfers combined to only take two scores over bogey.
Im from the coastline (in South Africa) and its kind of the same there, but I thought I was going to escape the winds when I came here, Pearson said. I didnt know it was so windy, but Ive found out it works in my favor. I think all of us are pretty good wind players, so that helped out today.
Even with so many titles in hand, Jones never has taken success for granted.
The nerves are still there, Jones said. Its more about our expectations than anything else. When you go in there as a favorite, I think youve got to feel your own pressure more than anybody elses. You have to be able to handle it. Thats part of the deal.
At Prairie Dunes
Team scoresWichita State 288-293-296877, Missouri State 300-299-296895, Northern Iowa 303-292-307902, Creighton 293-305-305903, Illinois State 299-301-304904, Evansville 294-300-312906, Drake 303-292-315910, Southern Illinois 297-312-317926, Bradley 309-312-308929.
Individuals1. Sparks, WSU, 72-72-73217; 2. Luo, UE, 72-70-76218; 3T. Stanek, CU, 72-73-74219; 3T. Young, MSU, 71-71-77219; T5. Hogan, MSU, 73-74-74221, and Pearson, WSU, 72-73-76221; T7. Becker, WSU, 72-77-73222, and Boyer, WSU, 72-72-78222, and Wetrich, UNI, 74-70-78222; T10. Gann, WSU, 73-76-74223, and Hawn, Illinois St., 71-76-76223.