Originally created 05/01/06

Pacers' quest for threepeat begins today



Chuck everything out the window.

Two national championships in the past two years mean nothing. Neither do 21 wins in 26 tournaments.

The road to the Division II national golf championship begins anew today for USC Aiken, as the Pacers begin play in the Atlantic/Southeast Super Regional in Concord, N.C. The 54-hole event, which runs through Wednesday, will be played at Rocky River Golf Club.

The tournament is broken down into two eight-team events, the Atlantic Regional and the Southeast Regional. The two winners receive an automatic bid into the Division II Championships. The top three of the remaining 13 teams in the event will earn at-large berths.

"It's a tournament most coaches don't like," USC Aiken coach Michael Carlisle said. "You have nothing to gain and a lot to lose.

"It makes it real hairy."

Realistically, what does No. 1 USC Aiken have to worry about? The Pacers have won eight of 11 events this season and have not lost to a Division II team.

"I'm very confident they'll get the job done," Carlisle said. "I view it as another opportunity to get us tougher for the national championship."

USC Aiken will go up against familiar competition this week. In the Southeast Regional, the Pacers will face five Peach Belt teams, along with Lenoir-Rhyne and Newberry.

Conference foes Armstrong Atlantic State and Columbus State have come the closest to knocking off USC Aiken. The Pirates lost by two in the AFLAC/Cougar Invitational in October. The Cougars finished six shots behind the Pacers in last month's Peach Belt Tournament.

USC Aiken won its seventh Peach Belt title on the strength of seniors Scott Brown and Dane Burkhart. Brown won his third consecutive tournament, and eighth career title, with rounds of 69-69-71.

Brown, the 2006 Peach Belt Player of the Year, averages 71.6 strokes per round, yet Carlisle believes Brown can be even better.

"He can see where he can be a better player," Carlisle said. "In order for him to continue on the path he wants to pursue, he knows he needs to step it up each week."

Burkhart, the 2005 Division II Player of the Year, is starting to get his game back after a slow start to the spring. He tied for seventh in the ASU Invitational and finished second in the Peach Belt, two shots behind Brown. His final-round 67 was the second-lowest round of the season.

"He feels relieved," Carlisle said. "He knows the low scores are coming back. He's starting to get his confidence back."

The fact that freshmen Matt Giftos and Roberto Diaz will travel as the team's Nos. 3 and 4 golfers is no surprise. The fact that Casey Thompson will be the team's No. 5 over Clint Smith might amaze some, since Smith holds a better stroke average (75.5) than Thompson (77.6).

"We're at that time of the season where intangibles come into play," Carlisle said. "We're looking for a good positive team chemistry. Casey's a good player, and he's a positive influence on the team."

Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or chris.gay@augustachronicle.com.

NCAA Super Regional

WHERE: Rocky River Golf Club, Concord, N.C.

WHEN: Today through Wednesday

SOUTHEAST REGIONAL TEAMS: USC Aiken, Armstrong Atlantic State, Columbus State, UNC Pembroke, Georgia College & State, USC Upstate, Lenoir-Rhyne, Newberry

ATLANTIC REGIONAL TEAMS: Coker, Pfeiffer, Belmont Abbey, Barton, Mount Olive, St. Andrews, Limestone, Fayetteville State

NOTE: The site is holding both the Southeast and Atlantic regionals. USC Aiken has won the past four Southeast regionals. Both champions earn an automatic bid into the NCAA Division II Tournament, May 16-19, in Daniels, W.Va. The top three remaining teams will get at-large bids.