Aztecs looking for first MWC championship

by Steve Trader

SDSU head coach Ryan Donovan and junior J.J. Spaun hope to be all smiles after this weekend’s tournament. File Photo
SDSU head coach Ryan Donovan and junior J.J. Spaun hope to be all smiles after this weekend’s tournament. File Photo

In each of the past couple of seasons, the San Diego State men’s golf team has come closer to capturing the elusive Mountain West Conference Tournament championship it has never won.

Two years ago, the team finished in a tie for first place but subsequently lost the playoff round and settled for second. Last season was the same story: another runner-up finish.

But after an impressive regular season in which SDSU logged 10 top-five tournament finishes and currently finds itself ranked No. 7 in the nation, this year’s MWC Tournament result could be something different — something special.

“My freshman year we were just unlucky,” junior J.J. Spaun said. “Last year we didn’t play that strongly, but this year we’re pretty much the favorite. So if we just go out there and play consistent, play how we’ve been playing, I don’t think we should have much of a problem bringing home that title.”

Entering the MWC Tournament this weekend as the No. 1 seed and the only team in the field currently ranked in the Top 25, the Aztecs could indeed be considered the favorite to win. The tournament will take place at the Omni Tucson National Golf Resort in Tucson, Ariz. for the fifth consecutive year, which bodes well for a SDSU squad filled with upperclassmen who have experience playing the course in past tournaments.

“I’ve played this same course the last three years during the conference championship, so I definitely feel confident playing out there,” senior Johan Carlsson said. “I know the course maybe better than any other course I’ve played in college. You just have to play smart, keep the ball in play and make putts.”

“It’s a golf course that offers a lot of opportunities to make a lot of birdies so you just have to stay patient and not force anything out there,” head coach Ryan Donovan added. “It’s also a course that if you get behind, trying to force things and catch up is a little bit tricky so we need to go out in that first round and put up a big number and try and make a statement right off the bat. That’s our goal.”

Winning the MWC would normally secure a bid to the NCAA Regional Tournament. However, because of such a successful regular season campaign, the team has already locked up a spot in the postseason, marking the eighth straight season in as many years under Donovan’s command that the team has advanced to the NCAA Tournament.The head coach is also rumored to be a candidate for the National Coach of the Year Award.

“He’s brought the program from a sort of middle tier up to a perennial top 10 in the nation program,” Spaun said of his coach. “That has a lot to do with the way he runs the program, how he structures practice and how he handles his players at the tournaments. He definitely deserves that award because he’s put a lot of heart and soul into this team and it’s definitely showing right now. I hope he gets it.”

“If I did get the award, it would only be because of the players and their hard work and commitment to this program,” Donavan said humbly. “It’s definitely a team effort.”

Making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament would undoubtedly go a long way not only in proving that Donovan belongs in that discussion, but that the Aztecs belong in the upper echelon of nationally ranked golf programs. It all begins this weekend at the MWC Tournament as SDSU tries to capture one previously unattained title at a time.

“We expect to win it this year with the season that we’ve had and the group of guys that we have going there, but we’re just treating it like any other tournament that we’ve played all year,” Donovan said. “I think everyone’s playing with a lot of confidence and it’s going to be a fun week. We’re going to enjoy it no matter what happens.”