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Men’s golf aims to keep season alive

Photo Courtesy of UTEP Athletics
The UTEP men’s golf team will compete at the Conference USA Championships from April 26-29 in Texarkana, Ark.

The golf team will be playing in Texarkana, Ark., for the Conference USA Tournament and for a chance to keep their season going by advancing to nationals.

The four-day event will take place from April 26-29 and will help choose which teams advance, first to the regional tournament and, ultimately, the national tournament.

Although the conference offers only one automatic bid to the winner of the conference tournament, the second, third and maybe even fourth-place teams could receive at-large bids depending on their performances.

“I really want this for our seniors,” said senior Martin Simonsen. “It’s great…and it something that I want them to be able to reach.”

Out of the four seniors, which make up almost half of the roster, only Simonsen has had the chance to advance and play 18 holes at the national level.

Simonsen is close to qualifying to nationals individually. Due to NCAA rules, his national ranking of 179 would be enough to put him in nationals even if UTEP does not qualify.

Still, Simonsen will go to Texarkana with the goal of not only securing a return trip for himself to nationals, but also in hopes of qualifying as a team.

“I love to play, I’ve played there (at nationals) twice,” Simonesen said. “(I’m) playing for the team, hope the team wins to play at nationals with me.”

The team will have to play one of their best tournaments if they hope to reach nationals. Out of all the schools in Conference USA, three or four will advance and UTEP will have to beat some heavy hitters to grab one of those top spots.

The format of the tournament is simple. During the first three days of competition all 13 teams will play 18 holes per day. After the first three days, only the top four will advance to play in the final day of competition. The teams will be seeded and compete head-to-head in a match play playoff. The winners of each semifinal pairing will face off to decide the Conference USA champion.

Playing in the national tournamen puts UTEP in the hunt for a national championship and it provides national exposure for the program. The NCAA Tournament is televised by the Golf Channel so the competitors and schools have the chance to play in front of a national audience.

“Them not wanting it to be their last tournament will help them,” said UTEP golf coach Scott Lieberwerth. “They want to play for the NCAA Championship.”

Win or lose, qualify or not, this will be one of the final times this group of seniors takes the course representing UTEP and that is something special for them and their coach.

The four seniors, Jacob Loya, Jere Pelletiere, Roberto Ruiz and Simonsen, were all freshmen when Lieberwerth first took the job as head coach, making them his first graduating class. Going into the weekend, Lieberwerth has mixed feelings as he prepares not only his seniors, but his whole team to compete in what may be one of the most important tournaments of their lives.

“They were all freshmen when I started. It’ll be bittersweet whether we play well and advance or not, I had a great opportunity to pay off,” Lieberweth said.

Juan Carlos Navarrete can be reached at [email protected].

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Men’s golf aims to keep season alive