KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Newberry closed out its 2016-17 campaign with a 4-1 loss to No. 1 West Florida in the match play quarterfinals at the 2017 NCAA Division II Men's Golf Championships, officially finishing in a tie for fifth place in the nation.
Newberry equals its own South Atlantic Conference record from 2011 for the highest finish by a league team in the men's golf national championship event. The Wolves have made three of the SAC's five all-time appearances in the tournament and are the only conference program to advance into match play.
The Wolves knew their task was tall entering Thursday morning's round. Sixth-seeded and seventh-ranked Newberry drew West Florida in the quarterfinal round. The Argonauts earned the third seed by virtue of their stroke play result but have been the nation's No. 1-ranked team all season.
West Florida's lineup is potent at every position. Chandler Blanchet, who was paired with Newberry's Ben Thompson, entered the tournament fresh off an individual national championship. The Gainesville, Florida native is currently the top-ranked player in all of two- or four-year collegiate golf, including NCAA Division I competitors. He leads a group of three Argonauts ranked among the top 11 in Division II.
"Today was a tough task for us," said head coach Howard Vroon. "West Florida is the No. 1-ranked team for a reason. We were not good enough to challenge them today. That is disappointing.
"Now we know what great looks like and are going to work to achieve that. We will be back. We are going to continue to pursue our goals."
The top-ranked Argonauts led three matches wire-to-wire and regained the lead in a fourth with four holes to play after a brief Newberry one-shot advantage. While several pairings remained within three strokes during the front nine, West Florida began to put distance between itself and the Wolves as groups made the turn and officially clinched their berth into the national semifinals an eight-shot win by seventh-ranked Henry Westmoreland over Harry Bolton.
Carlos Leandro, the Wolves' top-ranked individual at No. 12 in Division II, was the only Newberry player to defeat his opponent, besting Bryce Geraghty by two strokes with a four-over 74.
Thompson fired the best round of the day for Newberry and his personal best of the tournament, four shots lower than any of his three stroke play rounds, with a two-over 72. Unfortunately for Thompson, however, he fell by four strokes to the nation's top-ranked player in Blanchet.
Evan DeGrazia briefly took a lead over Jacob Huizinga, but the No. 11 player nationally bounced back for a five-shot win. Christian Bosso defeated Spencer Skiff by nine shots in the second pairing.
Despite Thursday's setback, Vroon is determined to use this year, arguably the most successful in program history, as a catalyst for future successes.
"What a year for these Wolves," he said. "I want to recognize Evan [DeGrazia] and Luke [Atack], our seniors and captains who provided great leadership this year. I want to congratulate the group that competed at the regional and national championships, and to thank those Wolves who could not be in attendance here but who worked hard this year and are anxious to compete for us next year.
"This was a tremendous and memorable year. I will never forget it. And I'm very thankful to the student-athletes who made it possible. They are the hardest working group of people I know."