Illinois men’s golf heads to NCAA Championships: “I like our chances”

CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — The Illinois men’s golf team has had its ups and downs this season. The Illini have won five tournament titles, including last week’s NCAA Regional, but they’ve also sputtered at times. Coming up short in its pursuit of a 9th straight Big Ten title was a disappointment for a group that has been the standard of the conference the past decade-plus.

Lineup shuffling has been a theme of the season to this point, with longtime head coach Mike Small shaking up who is in his top five, moving around the pieces of a talented roster to find out what works best. After winning the sixth NCAA Regional under Small, he’s feeling good heading to Carlsbad, California, the site of the NCAA Championships.

“I like our chances, I like where we’re at,” Small said. “I like our emotional stability where we’re at after last week and we’re a little bit spastic enough where we could scare some people because when we’re good, we’re really good.”

The two staples in the Illini lineup have been junior Jackson Buchanan, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, and Max Herendeen, the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year. The other three spots have been rotated quite a bit, with Tyler Goecke, Piercen Hunt, Ryan Voois, and Ethan Wilson, among others, playing roles throughout the season.

“It’s a true statement,” Buchanan said about how good the team can be. “We’re very good but we’ve shown times where we struggle a little bit and the more we can hit our standard and own our games, the more we can scare some people and I think that’s what we’re going to do this week.”

Illinois is the No. 11 overall seed out of the 30 teams in the NCAA Championships, held May 24-29 at Omni La Costa Resort & Spa (North Course). The Illini are making their 15th NCAA Championship appearance in the past 16 years, qualifying for match play eight times, second nationally since the current format was adopted in 2009.

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