USC Aiken is back in a familiar place. So is coach Michael Carlisle.
For the first time in four years, the Pacers are playing in the NCAA Division II national championship, which begins today at Cardinal Club Golf Course in Simpsonville, Ky. USC Aiken is one of 20 teams looking to advance out of the 54-hole stroke play portion and into Friday’s match play quarterfinals. The semifinals will take place Friday afternoon and the finals will be held Saturday.
Carlisle is hopeful his team will look to Augusta State as inspiration this week. The past two seasons, the Jaguars won the Division I national championship in the medal-match format.
“They can look right across the river and see the success Augusta State had in that format,” Carlisle said. “That’s a positive thing.”
Carlisle returns to the national stage after suffering a life-threatening illness in 2007. One year earlier, he led USC Aiken to its third consecutive Division II Championship in West Virginia – all three titles came in medal play.
This season, the Pacers returned to their old form, claiming the Bearcat Golf Classic in March before tying for first place with UNC Pembroke in the Peach Belt Conference Championship. USC Aiken finished fifth in the South/Southeast Super Regional, posting a final-round 296 to nip Florida Tech by a shot for the region’s final spot in the nationals.
Matt Atkins, who leads the team with a 72.3 stroke average and five top-10 finishes, posted three consecutive rounds of 70 to win the individual portion of the regional by one shot over three golfers. Atkins’ play, combined with timely rounds from the other four golfers, was key.
“No one else really had a great tournament, but they still contributed,” Carlisle said. “When you put it together, it was a total team effort.”
He said his team is much better than it was six weeks ago thanks to adjustments to the starting squad. J.P. Solis has posted four top-20 finishes and owns a 73.5 average, just ahead of Gaines Milliner (73.6). Taylor Welborn (74.3) and Hayden Letien (75.1) round out the lineup.