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.
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 old.
"One of our goals every year is to compete in NCAA Regionals for the chance to play at the NCAA Championships," Hankins said. "Our guys want the chance to showcase their skills in front of the people that 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 said. "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 said. "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 said. "We were rewarded with an NCAA Regional berth, and we are extremely excited. "
Kelpin and Brant bring senior leadership, but sophomore Steven Ihm and freshmen Joseph Winslow and Ian Vandersee will be 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 said. "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 said. "We have some young guys that have put in a lot of hours. Our young guys are experienced, qualified, top level golfers that 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 said. "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."
With a talented mix of youth and experience, coupled with a head coach who has made an NCAA Regional selection a normal occurrence, Iowa men's golf is once again poised for a deep postseason run in May and June.
General public tickets are on sale for the UI football team's season opener against Northern Illinois at Soldier Field in Chicago.
Click HERE to read more about the UI men's golf team's NCAA Regional bid.