Wittenberg men’s and women’s golf teams favored to win NCAC

Wittenberg golf coach Jeff Roope reached a milestone in leading the men’s and women’s teams to the NCAA Division III tournament for the first time last year, but that created a quandary because the events were held on the same weekend 600 miles apart.

He sent assistant Andy Bonar with the men to Greensboro, N.C., where they finished a program-best third in their sixth straight appearance, and Roope accompanied the women in their maiden trip to the NCAAs at Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla., where they pulled off a runner-up finish.

Roope, who is in his ninth year, did his best to keep up with the men online as they entered the back nine with the lead, only to lose by four strokes.

“It sort of stinks,” he said. “You spend the whole season with the team, and you want to be part of it. It also would be nice to be a head coach and have your assistant at these events.

“But if it’s a problem I have every year from here on out, I’d be happy to deal with that problem.”

The Tigers could easily force Roope to choose his postseason destination again. The men and women are heavy favorites to defend their crowns in the North Coast Athletic Conference tournament, which will be held over the next two weekends at two sites. The winner receives an automatic NCAA tourney bid.

Even if they aren’t victorious, both appear to be shoo-ins for at-large berths.

Not that Roope is looking that far ahead.

“Every year, regardless of the competition, I always feel extremely jittery and unsure (about the NCAC),” he said. “We’ve been pretty successful, but a lot can happen in the next two weeks.”

The Tiger men, who have won the conference every year since 2010, have a deep lineup where as many as nine golfers vie for the five team spots each week. The competition is so fierce that junior Sam Stilwell, a first-team all-league pick last season, is having to fend off other contenders for the fifth spot for the NCAC.

“They are guys who love the game and love a challenge,” Roope said. “They came to the university with the understanding that the hardest thing they’d have to do is try to get in the top five. They knew they needed to put in the work, and they have.”

The women have sent out the same five all year, led by sophomore All-American Jane Hopkinson-Wood and junior Macy Hubbard, the 2015 national runner-up.

“Mentally, they’re bulldogs,” Roope said. “They’ve got that game-management mentality, the fight, the drive.”

Recruiting at Wittenberg is on an upswing. Part of that comes from Roope’s credentials. He was just named coach of Team USA for the Junior Golf World Cup in Japan this summer.

Another draw for the Tigers is their home course, the renowned Springfield Country Club. Few schools have such a high-end facility one mile from campus.

“With recruiting, it’s a huge, huge advantage,” Roope said. “All we have to do is walk to the patio overlooking the 18th hole, where you can see the majority of the course, and kids fall in love with it right there. … It is a major part of why we’re good.”

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