VIDEO: Randy Wylie Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – No. 15 Carson-Newman, the third-seeded team in the Southeast Region, continues its run of NCAA Tournament appearances with a fourth-straight appearance in the Men's Division II South/Southeast Regional this week in Howey-In-The-Hills, Fla.
This is the fifth appearance for the Eagles in six seasons, matching their highest seeding in the region in that time. They were also third heading into the 2016 regional. They are one of 80 teams in Division II who have earned a place in postseason play.
"It's so great to make it to the NCAAs," coach Randy Wylie said. "We want that to be kind of a staple of our program that guys, when they come here, can count on that they're going to get a chance to play at the NCAAs. Our senior class will have gone every year, and that's the first time we've ever had that. Hopefully the junior class will repeat that the following year, but we want that to be something that kids can look forward to, that, hey, we're a really high-level program and you're going to get a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament."
Eight regions will partake in four regional tournaments, vying to grab a berth in the National Championships. The South/Southeast regional will have seven team berths into the final with two individual spots for the national final that will take place May 21-25 at the Cobb Course at the Resort at Glade Springs in Daniels, W. Va.
Carson-Newman has been ranked nationally nearly every week this season with its highest ranking coming at the eighth-spot in the Bushnell Golfweek Division II Coaches Poll back in late September. The Eagles had six top-three finishes this season including a win at the Aflac/Cougar Invitational in September to help bolster is resume to make the regional field. They head to the national tournament holding a 73.20 scoring average.
The Orange and Blue has not seen a top-five finish at the South/Southeast Regional in over a decade. The closest the team has come to that level was a sixth-place showing in 2008. The past two seasons have brought back-to-back ties for ninth.
"(This year) we're playing a really tricky golf course," Wylie said. "So it's going to be about just playing smart and kind of staying in their own game plan and just focusing on one shot at a time and not getting distracted by the tournament situation of where we do we stand in the event."
Last year's showing was highlighted by Tom Forster (Northamptonshire, England) making the National Final field as one of the top two individuals not on an advancing team.
Forster returns to the field for a third-straight season, this time as C-N's top-seeded player. He is joined by senior Jake Headrick (Maryville, Tenn.) at the No. 2 spot, who has played in the tournament all four years of his career. Also heading back to the field is Jackson Tyler (Wilmington, N.C.), this time for a second-straight season, with a slot as the fourth-seeded Eagle.
As a whole, the South/Southeast Regional is loaded with ranked teams, 13 squads to be exact. Aside from the Eagles and 'Splitters, four other Southeastern teams currently sit in the top-25 of the national rankings. Young Harris, Limestone and Columbus State are in the Golfstat and GCAA Coaches polls at No. 11, 14 and 25, respectively.
The South adds on eight teams to the national ranking total. The top three teams in the nation in both polls hail from the South – top-ranked Barry, No. 2 Lynn and No. 3 West Florida.
"You know, our region is really, really good so most of the best teams in the nation are in our region," Wylie said. "It's great to have a high seed but you're going to have to perform well at the regional tournament no matter what your seed is."
Thanks to the loaded field in the South/Southeast Regional, the past seven-straight national champions have made their way through the regional en route to the title. Lynn heads back to the field this season looking to defend its national title while West Florida will be seeking a second-straight regional crown.
The tournament opens on Thursday from the El Campeon Golf Course at Mission Inn. Carson-Newman will hit the links starting at noon. Fans can follow live scoring throughout each round, courtesy of hosting Rollins.