Two NCAA Tournament berths make it easier for Wichita State’s women’s golf team to play in tournaments with strong fields. Coach Tom McCurdy’s goal is a third straight NCAA berth.
He wouldn’t mind doing it the hard way — by earning an at-large spot in the 72-team field.
The Shockers won the past two Missouri Valley Conference Championships and the accompanying automatic bid. McCurdy is pushing to get WSU more chances to play ranked teams to boost his chances to grab an at-large spot.
“If we play well at some of the events, especially in the fall, we’ve got a really good chance to get on the bubble,” he said. “Winning conference the last couple years, getting to regionals, getting that exposure has really helped us create a schedule that should get us to at least another tier of rankings.”
WSU’s fall season started Saturday at the Diane Thomason Invitational in Iowa City, Iowa. On Sept. 21, WSU will play in the invitation-only Golfweek Conference Challenge in Colorado. In early October, the Ron Moore Intercollegiate in Colorado should feature another strong field.
“It’s kind of a Catch-22,” he said. “In order to get ranked higher, head to head and strength of schedule are key components. But you can’t play against teams ranked that high if you don’t have the opportunity.”
Last season, WSU finished No. 131 in the Golfstat rankings. McCurdy thinks his team can push into the top 90 or better. Wisconsin, McCurdy said, earned an at-large spot ranked No. 56 last spring.
“If we can play those two tournaments well, it will really help our cause because our strength of schedule isn’t quite there yet and we have to have those head-to-head wins,” he said.
The Shockers should be ready for the bump in competition with seniors Bryce Schroeder, Meghan Schuetz and Daniela Rugeles Duran returning. Schroeder, who led qualifying, and Schuetz own All-Missouri Valley Conference honors. Rugeles Duran, third in qualifying, is playing well after wrist surgery slowed her career. All-MVC junior Maria Alejandra Villalobos and sophomore Taryn Torgerson, who won the 2015 Kansas Amateur are also back.
After five rounds of qualifying for the opening tournament, WSU’s stroke average sat at 294.6, down from last season’s 305.
Freshman Gavrilla Arya ranked third in qualifying until the final day, when she slipped to fifth.
“She’s got a ton of instruction and a ton of tournament experience,” McCurdy said. “She’s just more composed than the standard freshman.”
With the Herd — WSU’s men’s golf team opens its season on Monday at the Marshall Invitational in Huntington, W.Va.
The Shockers, with a streak of eight straight NCAA appearances, return four of the five golfers from the team that finished sixth in the last spring’s San Diego Regional. Junior Grant Bennett led WSU by tying for seventh place.
He will join junior Max Mason and sophomores Jacob Bishop, Gage Ihrig and Conrad Walcher in Huntington.
Back from the Big 12 — Pitcher Adam Keller grew up coming to Wichita State baseball camps and hoping coaches recruited him out of Tulsa Memorial High.
“Basically, it was kind of a dream school,” he said.
WSU, however, didn’t spend much time on Keller and he went to West Virginia. He made 15 appearances as a freshman, starting two games, and throwing 33 2/3 innings. He went 1-2 with a 4.01 ERA, striking out 32, walking 11 and hitting seven. He considers his changeup his best pitch.
After the season, he decided to transfer and will spend his sophomore season at Seward County Community College. Last month, he gave WSU a non-binding commitment and plans to sign in November. Diana Keller, his mother, moved to Mulvane this summer, giving him a family reason to choose the Shockers.
“It didn’t necessarily work out my senior year,” he said. “Now I’m getting back to where I want to be now.”
Keller is the sixth commitment from the class of 2016, not counting walk-ons. He joins Leavenworth pitcher Tommy Barnhouse, shortstop Alex Jackson, of Flower Mound (Texas) Marcus, and pitchers Joe Dittmar of Richmond-Burton (Ill.), lefty Nathan Hawkins of Sunnyvale (Texas) and Preston Snavely of Fort Collins (Colo.).
On the big screen — WSU’s men’s basketball game at Seton Hall on Dec. 19 gets a rare bit of the television spotlight.
Fox — not FS1 or FS2 or a Fox regional network — will show the game to a national audience. It’s a milestone, even though it doesn’t mean as much as it did in the days before ESPN saturated viewers with college basketball.
The last time an MVC school appeared on a regular-season, over-the-air, national broadcast was Jan. 28, 1989, when CBS cameras showed BYU’s 93-92 win over the Shockers in Provo, Utah.