Redbird Men's Golf Travels to Stevinson Ranch Invitational
Drew Miller
Drew Miller

March 23, 2007

NORMAL, Ill. - Coming off his seventh career Missouri Valley Conference Golfer of the Week honor, senior Matt Miller leads the Illinois State men's golf team when they travel to Stevinson Ranch, Calif., for the Ninth Annual Stevinson Ranch Invitational on March 26-27. Miller, who is currently ranked sixth in the conference in stroke average (72.50), looks to challenge for individual honors in the 15-team field, eight of which are in NCAA District 5, Illinois State's district.

Tournament play begins Monday at 8 a.m. with 36 holes at the Stevinson Ranch Golf Club, which was named the "Best New Upscale Public Course in California" by Golf Digest in 1996 as well as ranking No. 8 in "America's Best New Public Courses". Tuesday's final 18 holes will also begin with a shotgun start at 8 a.m.

Head coach Ray Kralis believes the Redbirds have been playing some of their best golf recently and is excited at the opportunity to play against some of the better teams in the district.

"I think this is one of those tournaments that you can easily get fired up about," said Kralis. "Coming into the tournament having a very productive spring break trip, I think the guys are excited and have been playing the best golf they have been playing all year. We will have a chance to go head-to-head against some of the top teams in our district.

"Even though we are going into the tournament with a very young team, Matt has been a great leader. At the same time, I have seen the team mature immensely from the fall into the spring. I think the guys are doing a great job of taking ownership of their games and having the right attitude on the golf course. We want to make sure that they continue to do that, as this is one of those settings that can heat things up a little bit pressure-wise."

Assistant coach Pina Gentile, who will be making the trip with the team, shared the same sentiments expressed by Kralis.

"It's a very exciting time for Redbird golf," said Gentile. "We have seen some great strides so far this semester, and it has been fun to be with this team. The team has a lot to be fired up about, playing against not only some great competition, but we'll be playing at a great golf course. The course is one that you really have to manage your game, as there are holes you can attack, while there are other holes that you have to hold back and really focus. It is a phenomenal golf course and one that is really exciting to play."

Miller, who captured his second career victory at the UTSA Intercollegiate last month, leads a young but tournament-tested group of Redbirds into play at Stevinson Ranch. Freshman Drew Miller, who ranks second on the team in stroke average (75.9), will join his older brother, Matt, in competition. Freshman Tommy Bliefnick and sophomores Joe Emerich and Ben Murphy will also make the trip.

Colorado hosts the 15-team field, which also includes Air Force, Akron, UC-Davis, UC-Santa Barbara, Cal-State Stanislaus, Hawai'i-Hilo, Iowa State, Kansas, Missouri, Missouri-Kansas City and Oklahoma City. Missouri Valley Conference members Drake and Wichita State are also included in the tournament field. Oklahoma City's Daniel Mitchell, the 2006 champion, returns to defend his title and is currently ranked No. 1 in the GolfStat Cup Standings, with Kansas' Gary Woodland ranked No. 15 and Louie Bishop of UC-Davis No. 20.

In Division II, GolfStat ranks Cal-State Stanislaus No. 9 and Hawai'i-Hilo No. 40. As a team, Oklahoma City is No. 2 in GolfStat's NAIA rankings.

Last season, the Redbirds finished tied for sixth-place with Missouri at the invitational, with the event shortened to 36-holes due to heavy rain and lightning. Miller led the `Birds, firing a first-round even-par 72 to finish tied for fourth individually, with a two-round total of 147. Miller finished three shots off the lead, as Illinois State shot a team total of 605 (300, 305) and nine shots back.