Tornados have high expectations in 2016

BREVARD, N.C. – Head coach David Nelson’s goal for his men’s golf team is simple: win a conference championship in Brevard’s remaining one-and-a-half seasons in the South Atlantic Conference.

After years of having a roster filled with young talent, Nelson believes he finally has the perfect balance of ability and experience to turn a team always on the outside looking in to a legitimate contender for an NCAA Tournament berth.

“You can’t win a conference championship without upperclassmen,” Nelson said, his confidence in his team apparent. “I keep hammering home the message to our guys: ‘You’re good enough now. You’re good enough now.’ I think we’re a top-three team in the conference this year for sure.”

Despite concluding the fall without any tournament wins, Nelson insists that his team has turned a corner in recent months.

“Changing the culture of a program is like turning a cruiseliner, not a speedboat,” Nelson opined. “And we have turned. We’re heading in a winning direction now. There’s no doubt about it.”

Perhaps the strongest evidence that the Tornados have charted a new course was their impressive showing at the Hummingbird Intercollegiate on the final day of October. Although the Tornados finished seventh of 11 teams in a field that included seven Division I institutions, Oskar Lundgren won the event at five under par.

His score of 66 is believed to be the best round in school history. And Lundgren’s excellent showing was far from a flash in the pan—he finished the fall portion of the schedule with consecutive top-five finishes and a Brevard Student-Athlete of the Month award. He is currently ranked in the top 150 golfers in Division II and has the fourth-lowest stroke average in the conference.

Overshadowed by Lundgren’s performance at the Hummingbird was a very impressive day by Trym Falch. The Norwegian fired his best round of the fall to finish a stroke under par, while Craig Stephen’s two-over par gave him three top-20 finishes in a fall schedule filled with difficult competition.

“When our players saw those three do well throughout the fall, I think that was a huge turning point for them mentally,” Nelson commented. “When we’ve got those three players finishing well, and then some of our most talented players, two former team MVP’s (Sebastian Strehl and Luis Vega) and Steffen Heckele, a national champion in Germany, struggling during the fall, that’s when our players knew we could be something special.

“The other side of that coin, though, is that the players saw that we have to have a fourth player step up in a given tournament. We certainly have more than enough talent on the roster to accomplish that. But we’re only as good as our fourth scorer.”

Despite not knowing where Brevard’s fourth scores will come from, Nelson is anything but nervous about his team’s prospects when the spring portion of the schedule begins with the Spring Kickoff Intercollegiate on Feb. 15 in Fleming Island, Florida. “All of these guys have a tremendous work ethic. I can’t keep them off the course. We have to work on their thought process, build them up into believing that they’re able to compete and win at this level.”

With a challenging spring schedule, Brevard will be battle-tested heading into the 2016 SAC Championship in April. The Tornados will have chances to impress outside observers in Fleming Island, as well as with a trip to Vallejo, California to compete in the Tim Tierney Pioneer Shootout hosted by Cal State East Bay.

Playing in challenging tournaments against teams that do not typically appear on the schedule gives the Tornados a chance to bolster their resume. Brevard is fighting for NCAA Tournament consideration in the strongest men’s golf region in the nation, hoping to earn an automatic bid through a conference title or by earning a top-12 slot in the regional rankings at season’s end.

“Lincoln Memorial and Carson-Newman are ranked from our conference, and we tied LMU at the Etowah Intercollegiate earlier this year,” Nelson stated. “We’ve never been ranked. We would need to win some tournaments or do really well at these big tournaments we’re competing in to be in the regional rankings.”

Or, of course, win the SAC Championship. Brevard has a distinct advantage over its league foes because of the event’s location: Etowah Valley Golf Club, a course the Tornados consider their home.

“We know that course inside and out,” Nelson said. “It’s like when you’re playing at home in basketball and you know where the dead spots are in the floor, we know where to hit and where not to hit at Etowah. When they’re playing the tournament, the guys will have in the backs of their minds the time they shot minus-four, minus-five here, and if they get in a bad spot they know how to get out. That’s something no other teams have.”

With its goals clearly in sight, Brevard will begin building toward the 2016 South Atlantic Conference Championship with the 54-hole Spring Kickoff Intercollegiate on Monday, Feb. 15.

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