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Once again, a shot at nationals
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There wasn't a big celebration in the back room at the Wig and Pen on Monday night when the University of Iowa men's golf team found out it was one of 81 teams selected for NCAA Regional competition next week. The team saw its name appear on the screen and immediately started planning the trip to Athens, Ga.
Qualifying for NCAA Regionals has become the rule, not the exception, under head coach Mark Hankins.
Sophomore Steven Ihm and his UI men's golf teammates were selected to their fourth straight NCAA Regional appearance. Photo courtesy of UI Athletic Communications.
The Hawkeyes were selected for NCAA Regionals for the fourth straight year and have become a household name in NCAA Division I men's golf. Iowa was one of 13 teams selected to the Athens Regional and must finish inside the top five to advance to the NCAA Championships, held May 29-June 3 at Riviera Country Club outside Los Angeles.
Iowa is the highest ranked team in the Big Ten (26th) and was a lock for selection when the teams were announced. It's becoming an old habit for Hankins, but it's a habit that doesn't get bothersome.
"One of our goals every year is to compete in NCAA Regionals for the chance to play at the NCAA Championships," Hankins says. "Our guys want the chance to showcase their skills in front of the people who will be looking at them at the next level, which is professional golf."
Seniors Barrett Kelpin and Chris Brant have helped lead Iowa to an NCAA Regional appearance in each of their four years. That is an accomplishment that doesn't go unnoticed by Hankins.
"For two seniors to go to four straight NCAA Regionals is pretty awesome," Hankins says. "They've experienced a lot of growth in the program."
Kelpin knows that the ultimate prize is competing in the NCAA Championships. He helped the Hawkeyes qualify for the pinnacle of college golf as a freshman and a junior. He wants the same thing as a senior.
"It's exciting to get to go to NCAA Regionals every year," Kelpin says. "At the beginning of each season, that's a goal that we set for our team. We need to start preparing for a top-five finish and getting that trip to the NCAA Championships. That's the ultimate goal, but we need to take care of NCAA Regionals first."
Brant has enjoyed four successful years at Iowa. Even though his senior year isn't finished yet, he is able to reflect on the accomplishment of helping guide Iowa to a level of national prominence.
"We've played well the last four years and this year was no exception," Brant says. "We were rewarded with an NCAA Regionals berth, and we are extremely excited."
Kelpin and Brant’s experience will be invaluable for sophomore Steven Ihm and freshmen Joseph Winslow and Ian Vandersee, all playing in their first NCAA competition. Brant wants to make things simple for the newcomers.
"We've talked about how it's just another tournament and not to put any additional pressure on ourselves," Brant says. "We just need to go out and do what we do best."
Hankins has a lot of trust in his team, especially the young players.
"Just because you are a freshman doesn't mean you haven't played a lot of golf," Hankins says. "We have some young guys who have put in a lot of hours. Our young guys are experienced, qualified, top-level golfers who are going to have to go out and play well for us to advance."
Trust among the coaches and players are the biggest key to success, according to Hankins.
"This team trusts each other, they trust me, and I trust them," Hankins says. "We aren't going to be doing anything crazy. I won't be over-coaching them. They just need to go out and play their own golf ball and play well for us to advance."