Men’s golfers headed to Las Vegas to compete against best in the nation

by Brian Deutsch

Competition will be at its finest this weekend as the Minnesota men’s golf team plays in the Southern Highlands Collegiate Championship in Las Vegas.

The 54-hole tournament starts Friday at 8 a.m. PST and continues through Sunday’s final round.

Tournament host, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, will try to take home the team title for the third-straight year, but 15 teams ranked in the national top 50 will be looking to snap the Rebels’ streak.

The 26th-ranked Gophers will be one of them.

Facing a field ranging from No. 2 Florida to No. 41 Kentucky, coach Brad James said this weekend’s tournament will be one of the Gophers’ biggest challenges of the year.

James added that the design of Southern Highlands makes it an extremely difficult course.

At 7,510 yards, the long course requires golfers to control their drives – something James said his team has been doing well lately.

However, James stressed the importance of making putts on the course’s fast greens and the outcome it would have on the tournament.

“It will definitely be a good test for the guys,” James said. “They can see where their game is and what parts of their game they are going to need to work on for nationals.”

Seniors Bronson La’Cassie and Niall Turner, junior Clayton Rask, sophomore Victor Almstrom and freshman Ben Pisani will compete for the Gophers.

The team has had two weeks to prepare for the tournament since its seventh-place finish at the Puerto Rico Classic, another tournament that was stacked with ranked teams.

“One good thing that I like about our schedule,” Rask said, “is that coach (James) got us into pretty much the best tournaments you can find before nationals.”

Women travel to Arizona

The Minnesota women’s golf team will also head south this weekend to Rio Verde, Ariz. as it competes in the Rio Verde Collegiate Invitational.

The 18-team field will play 54 holes of golf spread out over the three-day event, which starts Friday.

Western Michigan hosts the tournament and will try to win its home event for the first time since the inaugural Invitational in 2003.

Senior Samantha Braschler, junior Kelli Berns, sophomores Young Na Lee and Sydney Liles, and freshmen Christine Herzog and Leslie Grabeman will participate for the Gophers.

After seeing some of the country’s best programs two weeks ago in Puerto Rico, Minnesota will compete against teams that are more comparable to the Gophers current level of play.

No. 46 Baylor is the highest ranked team participating in the event while less than half of the teams are ranked in the national top 100.

“There are none of the schools that are what you could call the big dogs, but there is some good competition,” interim coach Kristine Wessinger said. “I think this will be a good tournament and I’m expecting us to finish very high.”

The Gophers finished in last place two weeks ago at the Lady Puerto Rico Classic but two weeks of practicing on a snow covered driving range has the team excited about getting back on a green course.

“It’s tough in these conditions Ö in Puerto Rico we had a tough time but that’s just what happens going in and not hitting on grass consistently,” Herzog said. “Now that we have more experience, I think we’ll be fine.”