MUSCLE SHOALS, AL – In a regional field loaded with nine top-10 teams, and all of the top-five, the top five teams on day one of the NCAA Division II South/Southeast Regional were pretty much as expected. Second-ranked Lynn sat at the top of the standings, top-ranked West Florida was two shots back in second place, and 4th-ranked Florida Southern was third, trailing the front-running Knights by five shots.
Breaking up the top-five somewhat was 12th-ranked Newberry (SC) in fourth place, while 3rd-ranked Barry was fifth. No. 14 South Carolina-Aiken was sixth and No. 6 Florida Tech was seventh, and the top seven teams from the South/Southeast Regional will advance to the Division II National Finals. The Panthers were only one shot ahead of eighth-place and 9th-ranked North Alabama, which is serving as host for the regional tournament. Altogether, the eighth through 17th-place teams were all within seven shots of Florida Tech, which currently sits in the cut-off position.
Lynn had the lead with a four-under par 284 after getting a pair of 70s and a pair of 72s. One of those 70s came from last year's individual regional champion, Manuel Torres, who birdied six of his first 10 holes Monday and was sitting at six-under before a double-bogey on 16, and bogeys on 17 and 18. The other 70 was turned in by Tomas Gana who was one-over after 10 holes but three-under for the final eight. The Knights got a tournament-high 18 birdies from their four counters, and 21 overall.
Two shots behind Lynn was West Florida at two-under par 286. The Argonauts were paced by their number one player in the lineup and tournament individual leader Chandler Blanchet. He had six birdies and 12 pars to play the opening round at six-under par 66. They also got a 71 from Henry Westmoreland but had to count a 77, which was five strokes worse than anything Lynn had to count.
By the time Florida Southern teed off Monday afternoon at 12:50 local time, the first eight teams had nearly finished their round, and before the Mocs' first golfer reached hole three, those same eight teams were done for the day. With none of them putting together a score better than +8, it gave the Moccasins a pretty good idea of what they needed to shoot to put themselves among the leaders on day one of the three-day regional tournament.
They started extremely well too while playing the back nine first, with Michael VanDerLaan and Chase Ibbotson each birdying the par-5 No. 12 hole that was the longest on the course at 659 yards. When John VanDerLaan made his way through that same hole at two-under as the last Moccasin on the course, Ibbotson had birdied two more holes in the early going, and Florida Southern had jumped into the lead.
As all five Moccasins golfers completed their first nine holes, Florida Southern owned a score of -3 as a team, with only Lynn ahead of them at that point. The Knights had a slightly earlier start time and were on the front nine as the Mocs were on the back. With a few holes separating them, Lynn was at -5 with three holes remaining as Florida Southern, West Florida and Florida Tech all gave chase holding various under-par scores.
A big part of Florida Southern's earlier success was created by Ibbotson, a freshman from Sanford, Florida playing in his first NCAA postseason event. He had the three straight birdies on 12, 13, and 14 before a seven on the par-4 No. 15 hole set him back a bit. Ibbotson then came back with birdies on 16 and 18 sandwiched around a par on 17 as he made the turn at two-under.
West Florida was able to overtake Florida Southern late in the round as Blanchet birdied four out of five holes from 11 to 15. Blanchet was one of three Argonauts still on the course when they moved one shot ahead of Florida Southern, but they weren't able to catch Lynn before the end of the day.
With Florida Southern moving into the second half of round one, it was the VanDerLaan brothers who took charge for the Moccasins. After making the turn at one-over, Michael held that score until a bogey on his next-to-last hole left him at two-over par 74 for the day. That was the Mocs' first score in the clubhouse, and John's 67 was the last. It included five birdies and no bogeys, putting the junior All-American just one stroke behind Blanchet on the leaderboard, and two ahead of three other golfers from different schools who shot 69 on Monday.
In between, Ibbotson continued to play well for the Moccasins and ended his round with six straight pars to finish even for the day. The even-par 72 was Ibbotson's best score since the final round of the Southeastern Collegiate on March 14, though it was his sixth even-par score of the season. It turned out to be the Mocs' second best score of the day and had Ibbotson tied for 17th in the individual standings.
Florida Southern's fourth counting score was a 76, turned in by both Christian Anderson and John Coultas. Anderson had five straight pars at the beginning of his round and another five in a row at the end. Coultas was four-over after 11 holes, but even for the final seven. None of the other 19 teams in the tournament had a fifth golfer who shot as well as either Anderson or Coultas.
Round two of the South/Southeast Regional gets underway at The Fighting Joe course at The Shoals on Tuesday morning at 7:30 CST/8:30 EST with Florida Southern's first tee time at 8:20 CST/9:20 EST.