KISSIMMEE, FL – Back in October, 18 teams visited Reunion Resort for a tournament dubbed the NCAA Division II National Preview. A little over seven months later, it turns out that title was right on the mark. Playing on the same course they did more than seven months ago, when they met for the first time this season, the same teams at the top of those standings are all that's left in Division II men's golf as 4th-ranked Florida Southern and 2nd-ranked Lynn will go head-to-head one more time on Friday for the national championship.
The Moccasins had to get there by defeating top-ranked West Florida 3-2 in the semifinals Thursday afternoon. They'd already beaten Ferris State (MI) 5-0 in the quarterfinals Thursday morning. They got wins from junior All-Americans John Coultas and John VanDerLaan along with freshman Chase Ibbotson. It was VanDerLaan who officially clinched the match with a birdie putt on 18 as the Mocs' final player to complete his round, but by then it was really anti-climactic. Long before the other four individual matches were complete, VanDerLaan was up by 11 strokes over Bryce Geraghty and won by 13 after knocking down his seventh birdie of the round. That gave him a 65, which was the best for any golfer in the match play portion of the tournament on Thursday.
Florida Southern has reached the title match for the first time since the NCAA adopted the match play format in 2011, but the Moccasins have won 12 national championships (five under current coach Doug Gordin), which is the most at the Division II level. Lynn hasn't won one yet, but the Knights have been a regular in the title match, and are now making their fourth appearance in the last seven years. The Florida Southern-Lynn duel will also assure the Sunshine State Conference of its sixth straight national championship in men's golf, and 12th in the last 20 years.
Prior to the National Finals, only two teams had finished ahead of West Florida all season: Lynn (twice) and Florida Southern (once). The Moccasins have now done so two additional times, once during the three-round stroke play portion of the National Finals, and another time in the national semifinals. So now, the only teams to defeat the current number one team in the country will go head-to-head to determine who will end the year at number one.
The Moccasins held a 3-2 lead for nearly the entire round and when John VanDerLaan made the turn, they were up decisively in two of the five individual matches. VanDerLaan had an eight-stroke lead over Geraghty at that point and Ibbotson was up by six strokes over Christian Bosso through 12 holes. The match between Coultas and Jacob Huizinga was a little tighter, but Coultas was able to grab a four-stroke lead through 13. Elsewhere, West Florida's Henry Westmoreland and Chandler Blanchet were out in front of Michael VanDerLaan and Anderson by two and three shots respectively.
With Coultas' lead the smallest of the three Moccasins who were leading, his would likely be the swing match that would put Florida Southern over the top. Even though Huizinga chipped in for a nice birdie on 18, Coultas still won by three shots after he closed out an even-par 70 with birdies or pars on every hole on the back nine.
Coming in behind him was Ibbotson, who won by seven and led by at least six for the final 11 holes. He finished at two-over par 72. The Argonauts then got their wins from Westmoreland and Blanchet before John VanDerLaan's sterling final round clinched the outcome.
With both teams being members of the Sunshine State Conference, Florida Southern and Lynn have already met nine times this season, including once already at Reunion Resort in the NCAA DII National Preview. The Knights won that tournament with a -19, but the Moccasins were right behind them with a -15, and have beaten them three times in the spring portion of the schedule, including the stroke play portion of the National Finals.
Friday's championship match begins at 9 a.m. at Reunion Resort with all five individual matches starting on hole 1, and going off in 10-minute intervals.