Thursday seemed to be a favorable evening for the Minnesota men's golf team.
After shooting four-under-par during
the second round, the Gophers found themselves in second place and in considerable striking distance of tournament leader Stanford.
Adding to the good fortunes, Minnesota senior All-American Bronson La'Cassie led the tournament in individual efforts with an eight-under-par through the second day.
With the possibility of vying for their first national title since 2002 firmly in reach, the team left the golf course with lofty goals in mind Thursday night.
But then came Friday morning.
Minnesota fell into eighth place in the third round and finished tied for ninth at the NCAA Championships in Williamsburg, Va., ending their season with a top-10 national finish after playing admittedly less than stellar golf over the past several weeks.
"We were excited to be in second," La'Cassie said. "(The third round) was just a bad round of golf and bad luck, I guess; things started snowballing."
The change in team play worked similarly with La'Cassie's scorecard, which finished one-over for the tournament - good enough for 22nd overall - after being eight-under at the conclusion of round two.
And that ebb and flow is symbolic of what coach Brad James described as typical for a senior season.
"The senior year is always a difficult year," James said. "People always tell you you'll be good because you've got two seniors; well, it's usually their worst year. There's always the anticipation of turning pro,signing with someone and the money aspect."
James said La'Cassie's third round was a disappointing one - which La'Cassie agreed with. But James admitted that during the final two rounds, La'Cassie's score was a result of ball spots landing in unfavorable circumstances.
"A great example of that was on the final round - he hit three fairways that landed in three divots," James said. "That's three bogeys; that's just golf."
Sophomore Victor Almstrom finished as Minnesota's individual leader. Almstrom fired a one-under-par performance for the tournament, making him the only Gophers participant to shoot under par overall and landing him a tie for 15th in individual scoring.
It's that type of young potential that makes James hopeful for upcoming success.
"Any time you've got a sophomore finishing in the top 15 at nationals, you've gotta
be pretty happy about the future," James said.
During a weekend where the Gophers expected to see much lower scores than what were produced, Stanford ran away with the title as the only team finishing under par for the tournament.
James said he thought a team would need to be 15- to 18-under-par after two rounds to have the lead, which is why he was a little surprised the Gophers were holding onto second place with a score of just four under.
Regardless, it was a weekend that belonged to the Cardinal.
Stanford destroyed second-place Georgia by 12 strokes and didn't look back. It was their first title since 1994.
The Cardinal, known as a powerhouse when Tiger Woods highlighted the program in the mid-1990s, hit a rough stretch before winning a national title this year.
James has reason to believe that after two straight top-10 finishes, the Gophers might be able to replicate Stanford's formula and perhaps reach the championship form they held just five years ago.
After all, he's got Almstrom, freshman Ben Pisani and junior Clayton Rask all returning after posting solid seasons and gaining
pivotal NCAA Championships experience.
"We definitely need players like Victor and Clayton and Pisani to step up and perform," James said. "Those guys will be heavily relied on because we've got two All-Americans (La'Cassie and Niall Turner) departing."
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