Ashland University head men's golf coach Dennis North is aware of the history – but he isn't going to dwell on it.
As his Eagles prepare for the 2019 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships, Friday-Sunday (April 19-21) at Stoatin Brae Golf Course at Gull Lake View Golf Club and Resort in Augusta, Mich., North knows that the program has come close (finished second and one shot back in 2013-14, 2007-08 and 2001-02), but has yet to win a conference title.
How much will that be discussed in the leadup to the weekend?
"I don't think we'll talk about it a bunch," said North. "They're in a good spot, so I think we'll talk about day-to-day, shot-to-shot, which is what we've done this whole year – staying in the moment."
The Eagles' recent hot streak – five straight team rounds of 300 or lower, and an average team score of 294.4 in those five rounds – puts them in the conversation this weekend with the likes of Ferris State, Grand Valley State and Wayne State. But the way the regional rankings stack up, Ashland will need to win the GLIAC championship to make the NCAA Division II postseason.
Ashland's 2018-19 average team score of 300.21 is, according to GolfStat.com, the program's third-best in a single season since 1996-97.
"I'm so proud of them," North said. "We have a very good team. I'm so proud of those guys. I'm really excited to get these guys to the GLIACs this week and see what we can do."
The GLIAC Championships will feature a different format this year – two rounds, then on Sunday, the top four teams compete in head-to-head medal play in the semifinals in the morning, and the two semifinal winners will do head-to-head medal play in the finals in the afternoon.
"I was a little surprised that we are the 5-seed," North said. "You never know on 18 holes of golf what can happen. I'm expecting us to make it to Sunday."
Senior Austin Kondratick is playing like he doesn't want his Eagle career to end. His average round this academic year is 73.47, which would be the best for any AU men's player since 1996-97, and this spring, six of his nine rounds have been under par.
"Very happy for Austin," said North. "Hardest worker on the team, willing to help all the guys with anything that they possibly need. If anybody deserves it, that kid deserves to go out on a high note. I'm so happy for him."
Junior Patrick Steffen is coming off his best tournament average of the season at Indianapolis (71.33), and sports a 74.95 average round this season. Rounding out Ashland's "big three" is sophomore Ben Jones, who goes for an average of 74.37 in 2018-19.
"Patrick has had a wonderful spring," North said. "Ben probably hasn't had the spring that he's wanted, but he's coming off the last round (at Indianapolis). Ball-striking-wise on the last day, he was really excited with the way he ended that.
"Having 1, 2 and 3 who are playing so well – on the back end, just give me one score each day, and we're going to be fine."
The Eagles' fourth and fifth golfers, senior Cole Smith (78.00 average) and redshirt freshman Luke Tanner (78.89), each have shown flashes this spring, and one or both will be counted on for consistently-low scores at GLIACs.
"For him to throw in a 73 and get some confidence going for this week was really good to see," North said of Tanner. "Cole has put a lot of work into it this spring. It's good to see the passion and him knowing that his end is coming, and I'm going to maximize everything I can out of these last few rounds."