After a nearly four-month hiatus from competition, Ball State men’s golf begins its spring season with three consecutive, convincing victories at the MAC (Mid-American Conference) A10 Challenge to be crowned back-to-back champions.
“It is exciting,” head coach Mike Fleck said. “It's exactly the start I envisioned for this group.”
The three wins came in the form of head-to-head match play style matchups against Ohio, George Washington University and Eastern Michigan.
During match play, teams are first seeded one through eight into a bracket to designate matchups. Each grouping then plays, with points being awarded to the winners of individual, one-on-one matchups between the schools. Within these pairings, victors are decided by which golfer wins the most holes.
Sophomore Carter Smith was labeled the Cardinal’s number one golfer for the event and was subsequently matched against the top golfer from each of the opposing schools that Ball State faced throughout the competition.
Smith says that this particular format has an impact on the player’s mindset heading into these one-on-one matchups.
“I’m definitely paying attention to what my opponent is doing,” Smith said. “[Looking at] where he is at on each individual hole, if my opponent is out of position, I’ll play more conservative, but if he hits one close, I’ll get more aggressive.”
Despite facing stiff competition throughout the A10 Challenge, Smith was able to defeat all three of his opponents without playing the entire course a single time, creating an insurmountable lead in the later half of each of his three matchups.
“You're still playing the golf course at the end of the day, but emotions play into it more in match play,” Fleck said. “The goal is to try to break the will of your opponent and to put pressure on your opponent, and that is what we did this week with our play.”
Monday - Round One & Two
As the No. 1 seed, Ball State’s first matchup came Monday against the No. 8 seed Ohio Bobcats, where the Cardinals won four out of six matchups.
Smith and freshman Alec Cesare led the way in the opening contest with 5-up wins over their Bobcat counterparts.
The Cardinals would go on to face No. 4 seed George Washington University in round two, where they defeated the Revolutionaries in a similar fashion, 4-2. Both Smith and Cesare won their second round contests with scores of 3-up and 4-up, respectively.
Tuesday - Round Three
Matching up with the Cardinals in the championship round were the 2022 MAC-A10 champions, the Eastern Michigan Eagles.
On paper, the former three-time champions and No. 2 seeded Eagles would appear to be Ball State’s toughest challenge. The victory, however, would be the most convincing of the entire competition.
“They put a lot of time in over the winter; our goal was to put ourselves in a position to repeat,” Fleck said. “We were able to do that in a convincing fashion with two strong wins yesterday and a pretty dominating win today.”
The Cardinals won the championship for the second year in a row with a final score of 5-1, eclipsing Eastern Michigan for the most A10 championships since the event's conception in 2012.
“It showed the firepower we have at the top of our lineup with Carter and Kash and the depth that we have throughout the lineup,” Fleck said. “Every player this week contributed in a big way.”
Ball State will compete later this month when they venture south to Puerto Rico for the Dorado Beach Collegiate, beginning Feb. 25.
Contact Nick Shelton with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on X @NickS9954.