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Bemidji State senior Danny Menton, shown here in a recent dual meet, is one of the Beavers' top golfers. BSU will be competing in the NCAA Division II Central/West Super Regional Monday in Litchfield Park, Ariz. The top five teams in the regional advance to the national championship, which will be held May 15-19, at The Cardinal Club in Simpsonville, Ky. BSU photo services

Back in NCAA regionals, BSU aims for national tourney

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BEMIDJI -- Golf teams from the north and Midwest don't always have the same cache as those from the southern and western states. And with good reason -- they can hit the links year-round in Arizona, Hawaii and California.

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That's not possible in Minnesota.

But the Bemidji State golf team would like to change that perception this week. The Beavers will be participating in the NCAA Division II Central/West Super Regional in Litchfield Park, Ariz. And they'll be facing some top competition from the western and southwestern part of the country -- including nationally-ranked Cal State Stanislaus, Hawaii-Hilo and Grand Canyon, among others.

The golfers tee off Monday at Wigwam Resort's Heritage Course, with first-round action beginning at noon Monday.

"We would like to go down there and show some of them that northern teams can play, too," second-year head coach Ekren Miller said.

The Beavers, returning to the NCAAs for the first time since the 2009 season, have played consistent golf this season. It's one of the reasons why they were ranked No. 9 in the regional and were able to make it back to the tournament after a one-year absence.

"Guys are playing well in spring," Miller said. "We won key head to head tournaments and shot the best out of any team in our conference tournament in the spring."

The Beavers had rounds of 297 and 292 in the NSIC tournament to take third behind Minnesota State Mankato and St. Cloud State. Miller thinks that's what bumped them into the NCAA tournament.

"We were on the bubble," he said. "I don't even think we were in the top ten until that time. It was possible that maybe we were ranked the third week of the year since we won the NSIC preview in the fall, but not since then."

Even more amazing is that the Beavers have reached the super regionals despite not having won a tournament in the spring season. The Beavers won a dual against Minnesota Crookston on April 20 but nothing else.

"To finish sixth, then second, then fourth, then third (this spring), we just really hung in there," Miller said.

That's partly due to the consistent play of the team BSU is sending to the super-regionals.

Casey Hill, a senior, finished 2011-12 with a conference-best 74.8 scoring average in 18 rounds of competition. He took third in the NSIC Championship.

Another senior, Danny Menton, had the third-lowest conference scoring average with of 76.5 and won two tournaments this year (the Wayne State Spring Invitational and the dual with Crookston).

Hill is ranked No. 15 in the regional, while Menton is ranked No. 25. Freshman John Hafdal is also ranked, coming in at No. 46.

Other golfers on the regional team include senior Matthew Haugstad and freshman Andrew Benson.

"It's the same conference team from the fall as the spring," Miller said. "They've proven themselves. That says something about the consistency of play and also the team unity. You can build a team dynamic with that."

Making it back to the regionals looked bleak in the fall.

The Beavers finished 16 out of 21 teams in the NSIC/RMAC crossover tournament in September. That forced Miller to have a team meeting to map out how they could get back to regionals.

" I sat down with the guys and said, 'What does it take to win a national championship?' Then we looked at how you win a super regional, and how you win a conference title? So we looked at all that to see if you want to go to nationals, this is how you do it."

The Beavers completed the first step with their consistent spring. It wasn't a done deal until Miller got the call telling him the Beavers were in.

"It was like pins and needles waiting for that bid," he said.

There wasn't any big party or anything -- the Beavers celebrated, but knew they had more work to do.

That's the challenge -- advancing past the regional round for the first time in school history. The top five teams in the regional will advance to the championship, which will be held in Simpsonville, Ky., this year. Miller thinks they have what it takes.

"If you shoot 295 every day, I think you have a chance," he said. "On a par 72 course, that's 7-over par a day as a team. That's reasonable. These guys have a great shot.

"It's been a great year. It's been a well-deserved outcome of the hard work, and I look forward to the result."

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Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on Bemidji State but also covering area high schools. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at http://thebeaverblog.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.
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