Under the direction of first-year Head Coach Jamie Zantua, the University of Redlands men's golf team made its way back to the NCAA Division III Championships for the first time since 2015 in an exciting display of skill and determination. The Bulldogs entered the season at No. 22 on the national rankings and climbed up to No. 9 in all of NCAA Division III. In addition, the Maroon and Gray battled through a log jam of talent at the top of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) and finished second in the standings, just four strokes behind the champion and two strokes out of third place.
In early October, Redlands began the fall portion of the campaign by teeing off at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Co-Ed Invitational in Prescott, Arizona. Redlands completed 54 holes in third place with a total of 881 strokes (298-290-293). Senior Cade Lawson (Lake Oswego, OR) paced four Bulldogs in the top 15 with a three-round tally of 220 in a tied-for-ninth effort. Lawson impressed by shaving nine strokes from his first to second round and drained 10 birdies and 29 pars.
Two weeks later, the Bulldogs combined for an impressive performance at the Marymount California University Fall Invite. Every Redlands participant finished among the top 13 for a 54-hole score of 847 for the Bulldogs' lowest three-round score in more than 10 years. The Maroon and Gray shot 13 strokes better than the second-place team. Junior Jake Hollander (Peterborough, NH) found his rhythm early with a career-best tally of 201 for a gold-medal effort. He came out of the gates with a tournament-low 66 in the first round. Senior Alex Stroes (San Marcos, CA) put together a solid outing to land in a three-way tie for sixth place with a 214. He improved his score throughout the tournament, ending on a career-low 67 in the final round.
To begin the spring portion of the schedule, the now 10th-ranked Bulldogs competed in the challenging CSUSM Fujikura Invitational that featured 13 NCAA Division II teams and only two NCAA Division III teams. Redlands finished ninth with a combined score of 605 (313-292) while eliminating 21 strokes off of its first-round tally to move up five spots on the leaderboard.
Two weeks later, Redlands took on another NCAA Division II-laden field and finished sixth at the Coyote Classic. The Bulldogs scored a 54-hole total of 890 (295-305-290) and claimed the highest finish among NCAA Division III teams. Stroes led the way for the Maroon and Gray with a fifth-place tally of 215 on rounds of 71, 72, and 72. First-year Kyle Sharp (Austin, TX) enjoyed a quality three rounds for a 15th-place tally of 220 (72-78-70), which included an eagle. Junior Diego Cortes (Santiago, Chile) also performed well with nine birdies that led to a total of 236 (75-85-76).
Facing tough, non-conference competition paid off when the Bulldogs dominated the SCIAC Tournament No. 1 in mid-February. The Maroon and Gray led from the start to finish with a combined score of 575 (288-287), which was five strokes ahead of the second-place team. Junior Cameron Cooper (Seattle, WA) and Hollander each played into a three-way tie for medalist honors in a field of 47 competitors. Cooper remained consistent with rounds of 71, while Hollander notched a tournament-low 70 in the first 18 holes en route to his 142. In addition, Lawson rallied in round two to earn an impressive score of 69 for a total of 144.
To begin the month of March, Redlands took on another Division II-heavy tournament at the Las Vegas Desert Classic. The Maroon and Gray came in seventh place with an 882-stroke performance and finished second among the Division III schools by just one stroke. Stroes once again paced the effort with a 54-hole total of 221 in a 23rd-place tie. He put together a low round of 70 and led all competitors with 40 pars over the tournament.
After improving its national ranking to No. 9, Redlands went on to take second place at the high-caliber West Cup. Hollander prevailed as the frontrunner for the Maroon and Gray with a 54-hole total of 220 to tie for third overall. Hollander improved each round with scores of 75, 73, and 72. He sank an eagle and drained 32 pars in a solid effort. Lawson's outing was highlighted by nine birdies, while Stroes ranked second in the field with 11 birdies on his way to a consistent score of 74 each round.
At the start of April, Redlands took on the conference foes at the SCIAC Tournament No. 2 for the final outing before the SCIAC Championships. After an opening round of 309, the Bulldogs rallied back for a strong second round of 297 for a third-place total of 606. Lawson impressed by jumping up 11 spots on the leaderboard to fourth place overall off of a 36-hole tally of 149 (76-73).
As the No. 8-ranked team in the nation, Redlands entered the SCIAC Championship Tournament with high expectations and determination for a strong finish. After firing off an opening-round score of 291 to sit in fourth place, the Bulldogs moved up two spots with a 293 before ending the tournament in third place off of a 296. Their three-day total brought their seven-round aggregate score to 2,061 to claim second place in the overall conference standings. In an unbelievably tight race, the Maroon and Gray sat just four strokes behind the champions and only two strokes ahead of third place.
Individually, Sharp earned a bronze-medal score of 219 (72-76-71) in his championship debut. Stroes and Cooper each concluded the tournament in fourth with an overall score of 220. Their best showing came in the second round, as Stroes shot a 70 and Cooper closely followed at 71. Lawson began the tournament with a score of 72 and ended in an eighth-place tie with 223 strokes. Both Hollander and Cortes each shot their best round of 74 in the first 18 holes en route to totals of 225 and 230, respectively. Hollander landed in a 12th-place tie, while Cortes finished in a 23rd-place draw.
With consistent play against top competition throughout the season, the Bulldogs received one of seven at-large bids to the NCAA Division III Championships in Nicholasville, Kentucky, which marked their first appearance since the 2015 season.
With a final tally of 1,241, the ninth-ranked Bulldogs battled to a 17th-place finish through 72 holes of action. Lawson and Hollander fired off opening rounds of 75, which set the team up for a successful second day on the course. With 36 holes under its belt, Redlands made the 18-team cut with a 16th-place effort off of a two-day score of 618. Hollander was once again the leader of the pack for the Bulldogs with a score of 78 for a total of 153. In round three, the Maroon and Gray combined for 313 strokes, which led to a three-round total of 931. Hollander performed well by climbing up 10 spots to 44th on the individual leaderboard on the heels of a 77. In addition, Stroes shot his best round of the tournament with a 77 to make a 42-spot leap into a five-way tie for 70th. Sharp joined Stroes in the tie after shooting a 79 to climb up 19 spots. On the final day, Redlands concluded the tournament with a four-round total of 1,241 to take 17th place overall. Hollander scored his lowest round of 74 to tally a score of 304 for a four-way tie for 39th place. Stroes ended his national appearance with a 79 for a total of 314 in 72nd place. Cooper also scored a 79 for a 317 total, while Lawson registered an 88 to finish in 85th place with a final tally of 320.
In terms of accolades, Stroes earned a spot on the All-SCIAC First Team for the third time in his career, while Hollander secured his second appearance. Lawson and Sharp gained their inaugural nods on the First Team, as Cooper received Second-Team recognition for the second consecutive season. Sharp also was named the 2019 SCIAC Newcomer of the Year. Stroes and Hollander each garnered national attention by the Golf Coaches Association of America (GCAA) with spots among the NCAA Division III PING All-West Region Team for the first time in their careers. In addition, Hollander represented the Bulldogs among the best in the nation as an Honorable Mention All-American.
With the first chapter of a new era in the books, the Bulldog men's golf team holds high hopes for a successful future under the leadership of Zantua. While the loss of its talented seniors is significant, the Maroon and Gray boasts a talented core of returning competitors that strives to maintain this year's momentum with continued perseverance and dedication.