The post-season is here for both the University of Victoria Vikes men’s and women’s golf teams as they are set to travel south this weekend to compete in the A.I.I. Regional Championships in Phoenix, AZ from April 30-May 1.
Securing a great finish at the Regional Championships will be key for both teams as they try to book their tickets to the NAIA National Championships, taking place May 15-18 in Silvis, Ill. for the men and May 22-25 in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. for the women.
For the men, ranked No. 10 in the NAIA, a top-three finish this weekend will ensure they compete at the Nationals, while a strong weekend that sees them finish outside the top-three may be enough to earn them an at-large berth. The women’s team meanwhile, ranked No. 14 in the NAIA, will automatically qualify with a tournament victory this weekend. Anything less than first and the women will be waiting for the decision on which schools will receive an at-large berth to Nationals.
About the Event
The A.I.I. tournament is one of many regional championships held throughout the spring in the NAIA and helps determine what teams will travel to TPC Deere Run in Illinois or PGA National in Florida for nationals in mid-May.
The Vikes and UBC Thunderbirds are the traditional powerhouses in the A.I.I as the two Canadian schools compete against other independent institutions scattered through the U.S. There will be some extra competition for the men this year however, as two smaller Conferences will also be competing with the A.I.I schools.
“We are playing amongst 16-18 teams next week, up from 11 teams in previous seasons,” said Vikes head coach Justin Clews on his men’s team. “Us and UBC should finish in the top-three as the rest of the competition consists of teams we have beat already throughout the year. Our #10 NAIA ranking also helps for national qualification but I think we will qualify in this event based on our finish.”
It was UBC that claimed the men’s A.I.I banner last year, with the Vikes finishing just six strokes behind their Canadian counterparts.
The road to qualification is harder for the Vikes women, as there are no smaller conferences joining the A.I.I for the Regional Championships, meaning the auto-qualifying spot goes only to the tournament winner.
The Vikes women also finished second behind UBC at last year’s event, but posted scores strong enough throughout their season to earn themselves an at-large bid to Nationals.
“The UBC women will be the favorites to win, but I’m confident our women will be competitive and hang around their score if we perform to our ability,” said Clews. “Our women are ranked #14 so if we don’t beat UBC at this event, it will be important we at least post some strong team scores close to their scores.”
Scouting the Course
The tournament will be held at the Wigwam Golf Resort, where the men will be playing on the 7,430 yard Gold course and the women on the 6,000 yard Blue course.
“Unfortunately, no one on our travelling roster has played these courses before,” said Clews. “I played the Gold course at Wigwam years ago when I was younger and I recall it being relatively long yet score-able. It’s not too tight and pretty open so I think it will benefit the longer hitters.”
Justin Clews, Vikes head coach
“I am confident in how our teams will score and place. Definitely a lengthy layoff with the exam period, but with the regular seasons we’ve had, I anticipate we will finish strong. I think it’s important both teams post a strong round one score because we want to make sure we are amongst the leaders out of the gate and not playing catch up. For both men and women, we tend to improve our scores as the tournament goes on.”
“For the men, we have three seniors who are hungry to cap off their collegiate NAIA careers on a high note. I expect them to be extremely motivated next week and hopefully that will yield some strong scores for our team performance.”