GNACSports.com
Vikings, SFU Look To Steal Crown At GNAC Championships
Western Washington's Devin Andrews (left) and Simon Fraser's Ryan Hodgins (right) are both part of programs that believe they can win at this week's GNAC Men's Golf Championships.
Western Washington's Devin Andrews (left) and Simon Fraser's Ryan Hodgins (right) are both part of programs that believe they can win at this week's GNAC Men's Golf Championships.

Friday, April 15, 2022

PORTLAND, Ore. – Five GNAC programs, including three regionally-ranked teams, begin the road to the postseason at the GNAC Men’s Golf Championships in Coeur d’Alene on Monday and Tuesday.

Saint Martin’s will enter as the defending champions after winning its first conference title in school history at the 2021 Championships, but this time around they will not have “The Home Course” advantage they enjoyed a season ago. After last year’s Championships were held at The Home Course in Dupont, Washington, less than 15 miles from the SMU campus, the Championships return in 2022 to the Coeur d’Alene Golf Resort after a three-year absence.

Based on the regular season, the main contenders this time will be Western Washington and Simon Fraser. The two teams finished No. 1 and No. 2 at the prestigious Hanny Stanislaus Invitational in Turlock, California on March 28-29, with Western Washington beating Simon Fraser by a stroke to top a 15-team field that included all 11 teams in the NCAA West Regional rankings.

Western Washington is No. 1 in those rankings, with Simon Fraser at No. 2, and the two schools each received votes in the latest Bushnell/Golfweek Division II Coaches Poll.

Individually, the GNAC has two golfers ranked in the nation’s top 150 according to Golfstat: Western Washington senior Aidan Thain (No. 89) and Simon Fraser freshman Bailey Bjornson (No. 147). Saint Martin’s senior Tyler Fitchett, the defending individual medalist from 2021, should also be in contention after earning co-medalist honors with Thain at the Hanny Stanislaus Invitational.

Western Washington features a pair of multi-GNAC Player of the Week winners in Thain and freshman Conrad Brown. Thain is currently on a hot streak, shooting 7-under-par 209 at the Hanny Stanislaus Invitational and 1-under-par at the RJGA Palm Valley Classic in Goodyear, Arizona. Thain ranks third in the conference with a 73.0 stroke average in 22 rounds and leads the GNAC with four top-10 finishes this year. Brown started his college career at a blistering pace with top-five finishes in two of his first three collegiate starts in the fall season.

The Vikings also have a pair of steady upperclassmen in junior Jordan Lee and senior Devin Andrews to help boost their team score. Lee ranks fifth in the conference with a 73.9 stroke average through 22 rounds while Andrews ranks sixth with a 74.0 average through 14 rounds. The Vikings’ team average is 293.4 over 22 rounds, second-best in the GNAC. In addition to winning the 15-team Hanny Stanislaus Invitational, they also won the 12-team Saint Martin’s Invitational in September and have five top-three team finishes in events with 10 or more teams. The Vikings rank No. 32 in the latest Golfstat rankings from April 12.

Simon Fraser has a young but talented line-up led by Bjornson, the conference’s only three-time Player of the Week recipient this season. Bjornson has the lowest individual stroke average in the GNAC, averaging 72.6 over 21 rounds, and has three top-10 finishes this year. Fellow freshman Ryan Hodgins placed fourth at the Hanny Stanislaus Invitational and tied for second in an 85-golfer field at The Joust in Jurupa, California, shooting 2-over-par 215 over 54 holes. Hodgins has the fourth-best stroke average in the GNAC at 73.1 over 19 rounds.

Junior Ryan Stolys ranks seventh with a stroke average of 74.1 and was the top GNAC finisher in fourth place at the WWU Invitational in October. As a team, Simon Fraser boasts the lowest stroke average in the conference at 291.7 through 21 rounds. They finished second to Western Washington at both the Hanny Stanislaus Invitational and Saint Martin’s Invitational. Simon Fraser is ranked No. 62 in the latest Golfstat rankings.

Montana State Billings is the final GNAC team to be ranked in the NCAA’s West Region rankings at No. 11. The Yellowjackets’ most consistent golfer is senior Riley Lawrence, who ranks ninth in the GNAC with a 74.9 stroke average. But the MSUB golfer with the best chance to go on a run may be senior Riley Kaercher, who has a 75.9 average but three top-10 finishes. Kaercher finished tied for third at even-par 144 at the NNU Poppy Ridge Invitational and tied for 10th at 2-under-par 214 at the RJGA Palm Valley Classic. In both tournaments, Kaercher was the top GNAC finisher at an event where four conference teams competed.

The Yellowjackets have a team stroke average of 302.4 over 25 rounds, fourth in the conference. They defeated all four other GNAC programs head to head at the WWU Invitational in September, finishing second at 598. They were also the top GNAC team finisher at the NNU Poppy Ridge Invitational, finishing third at 12-over-par 588 in a 16-team field. Montana State Billings ranks No. 94 in the latest Golfstat rankings.

Saint Martin’s will have to outperform regular season results to retain their team title, but they have a legitimate shot at the individual medal thanks to Fitchett. The senior, who became the second SMU GNAC individual medalist and first since 2008 with his win last year, is also having a strong campaign this year. Fitchett ranks second in the conference with a 72.8 stroke average over 21 rounds, the only golfer not from WWU or SFU in the top eight. He tied for sixth at the SMU Invitational at 3-under-par 213 and finished 10th at the Dennis Rose Intercollegiate in Hawaii in October before his 7-under-par 209 brought him a share of the win at the Hanny Stanislaus Invitational.

Senior Dennis Geissler tied for 10th at the WWU Invitational and earned Co-GNAC Player of the Week honors for finishing tied for 19th at 1-under-par 141 at the Sam Proal Invitational in Pueblo, Colorado on October 4-5. The Saints have a team stroke average of 302.1 over 21 rounds, third in the conference, but have yet to finish higher than eighth in a tournament this season. They rank No. 136 in the latest Golfstat rankings.

Northwest Nazarene wraps up competing teams. The Nighthawks are led by sophomore Lane Strand, who ranks 10th in the GNAC with a 75.0 stroke average. Most recently, Strand was the fourth-highest GNAC finisher at the RJGA Palm Valley Classic, tying for 21st at even-par 216. Strand and senior Tyler Joplin finished second and third, respectively, at the NNU Intercollegiate on March 28-29. The Nighthawks also won the team portion of that event, defeating Spokane CC and College of Idaho by 31 strokes.

As a team, the Nighthawks have a 303.6 stroke average. Aside from the NNU Intercollegiate, team highlights include an eighth-place finish at the NNU Poppy Ridge Invitational, finishing ahead of Saint Martin’s, and a 10th-place finish at the Saint Martin’s Invitational. They rank No. 144 in the latest Golfstat rankings.

The GNAC Championships begin Monday at 7:30 a.m., with the second round beginning at 1 p.m. The third and final round will start Tuesday at 8:00 a.m. Live stats can be accessed at GNACSports.com.

Copyright ©2022 Great Northwest Athletic Conference. All Rights Reserved. GNACSports.com