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Michigan up next for OVC champs

by Mitchell Gladstone | May 4, 2023 at 2:16 a.m.

Seated in the front of the Legends Room inside the Jack Stephens Center Wednesday afternoon, the University of Arkansas-Little Rock men's golf team didn't necessarily have nerves waiting to find out its postseason fate.

The Ohio Valley Conference champions, like last year when they won the Sun Belt Conference title, knew they'd be among 81 teams in the NCAA Championship field.

But there was certainly curiosity about where the Trojans would be headed.

They didn't have to wait long to find out.

UALR was revealed in the second of the six regionals, with the Trojans earning the No. 9 seed in the Bath, Mich., regional hosted by Michigan State at Eagle Eye Golf Club.

Top-seeded Illinois -- No. 3 overall nationally -- headlines the crop of 12 teams UALR will match up with. But the Trojans will also be dealing with several power-conference programs, namely No. 2 Florida, No. 3 Texas, No. 4 Oregon, No. 5 Kansas State and No. 6 Georgia, plus the host Spartans.

"It's definitely a really tough region," said UALR senior Jansen Smith, who was named Ohio Valley Player of the Year. "The top five or six in that region are definitely really good teams, so we're going to have to play our best to make it through."

The added wrinkle to things is that Eagle Eye features bentgrass greens, something seen more typically in cooler climates like that of Michigan and the upper Midwest.

As Coach Jake Harrington explained, there are more differences in Bermuda grass, meaning that although the Trojans typically practice on Bermuda grass greens in Arkansas, they are not the same as the ones they'd see out west or in Florida, where they played last year's regional at PGA National.

Conversely, bentgrass is relatively consistent across locales, so UALR will spend much of the coming week at either the Country Club of Little Rock or the Alotian Club in Roland -- both of which feature bentgrass greens.

That, plus a couple of practice rounds -- one at Eagle Eye and at least another on a different course in Michigan -- and some extensive terrain research by Harrington and assistant coach Patrick Sullivan should have the Trojans prepped for an unfamiliar setting.

"I promise you if you ask me tomorrow night," Harrington said. "I'm going to know a heck of a lot about that golf course."

Getting to play in a regional is one thing for UALR. After going two decades without a postseason appearance -- the Trojans appeared in 2000 and 2001 but not again until 2021 -- Harrington's first NCAA trip at UALR saw his team make nationals after finishing fifth in the Stillwater, Okla., regional.

Although those 2021 Trojans finished last among the 30 teams to advance to Arizona, it was still a better result than 2022. UALR finished sixth in the Palm Beach Gardens regional last spring, failing to make it back-to-back trips to nationals.

The goal this time around, unquestionably, is to improve on both results.

That requires finishing fifth or better among the 13 teams at Eagle Eye and earning a return ticket to Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"You always want to leave on a high note," said senior Anton Albers, the Ohio Valley individual medalist. "It's definitely top of the list of my goals for this year to make it back and then have a historic year."

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