North Texas coach Brad Stracke couldn’t help but reflect on some of the high points of his past few years with the Mean Green men’s golf team this week.
UNT played in three straight NCAA regionals from 2011-13 behind Carlos Ortiz and Rodolfo Cazaubon, a pair of players now carving out a niche in professional golf.
The Mean Green are back on the national stage, this time in the New Haven Regional with a new group of players looking to help UNT break through and earn a berth in the national finals. UNT is the 11th seed in a 14-team field that will compete in the three-round event on The Course at Yale beginning today.
UNT will need to finish among the top five teams in the regional to grab a berth in the national finals.
“I was thinking about that,” Stracke said of being back with a new batch of players. “I have two freshmen and a sophomore who are getting a chance to build this program up again. If we can get to the finals, we will really have something going. The more times you get there, the easier it gets.”
UNT has made playing in the NCAA regionals a habit under Stracke, who was named the Conference USA coach of the year after leading the Mean Green to the conference title. That championship was another a landmark for UNT, which missed out on a regional berth last season.
Juan Munoz won the individual championship at the C-USA tournament, while Cory Churchman finished in a tie for fifth. Churchman went on to sink the title-clinching putt in the match-play final against UAB late last month.
Their performance helped UNT add another key chapter to its run of success under Stracke. The Mean Green have won conference titles in three of the past four years — their best stretch since winning the Missouri Valley title in 1972 and winning back-to-back in 1974 and ’75.
“It’s benefiting our program,” Stracke said of being a consistent regional qualifier. “Kids look at that. It helps your program and the recruiting process.”
UNT’s win against UAB boosted the Mean Green’s confidence heading into this week’s regional, where they will be a decided underdog. Vanderbilt, LSU, South Florida and Oklahoma State are the top four seeds in the region. Vanderbilt and LSU are tied for fifth in the national rankings, while South Florida (No. 18) and OSU (No. 20) also are ranked.
UNT is unranked and looking to exceed expectations while adding to a legacy that includes four straight national titles from 1949-52. The Mean Green last made the NCAA finals in 1963.
“The goal is to make it to the finals,” Stracke said. “That has been the goal since the first day we practiced in the fall. We want to compete against the best.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter @brettvito.