Wichita State Shockers

Shocker men’s golf hopes depth pays off in NCAA Tournament

In recent seasons, Wichita State’s men’s golf team took teams that relied heavily on one or two players to NCAA regionals. The current team is constructed a different way, with depth and balance.

Coach Grier Jones likes those assets. The Shockers are seeded No. 7 in their regional at Stanford and they possess the scoring power to move into the top five and advance to the national tournament. All five Shockers finished in the top 10 of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and all five have at least one top-10 finish in another spring tournament.

“We’ve had teams in the past where we were a little top heavy,” Jones said. “If you have some balance, if you have five individuals that are pretty solid every week, if one of your top players slips, he gets picked up.”

WSU, making its seventh straight regional appearance, is trying to advance to the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2004. Junior Rafael Becker learned a lesson two years ago, when WSU entered the final day in contention. But when top player Dustin Garza faltered, nobody stepped up. The Shockers dropped from fourth to ninth.

“It just showed us we cannot rely on one good player,” Becker said. “Everybody’s got to play with most amount of effort possible.”

Becker, the MVC’s Golfer of the Year, leads WSU with a 73.5 stroke average. Junior Hunter Sparks won medalist honors at the MVC Tournament, his best finish since winning two tournaments in the fall. Sophomore Calvin Pearson finished in a tie for fifth in the conference tournament, his best finish of the spring. Junior Tyler Gann and freshman Louis Cohen Boyer also finished in the top 10.

“My idea is, each guy on the team is trying to win the tournament,” Jones said. “That’s the goal every week, or should be. If you’ve got five guys doing that, you should have a pretty good team.”

While the Shockers don’t have a senior on the roster, the pressure of NCAA competition is not new to most.

“What I learned is that other teams may put pressure on themselves, but we don’t plan to,” Pearson said. “It’s just another tournament we plan to play well in. If we can play well, we’ll get the results we want.”

California is the top seed in the 13-team field, followed by Stanford, San Diego State, Central Florida, LSU and Alabama-Birmingham. WSU must move past at least one team in that group to advance.

“A month ago, we were playing in a tournament, and there is always next week,” Jones said. “As far as the regionals go, if you don’t play well, there isn’t a next week.”