`Birds Head to Kansas to Challenge for Valley Championship
April 20, 2007
NORMAL, Ill. - Senior Matt Miller will look to add one more plaudit to his already impressive resume, a Missouri Valley Conference Championship, when he leads the Illinois State men's golf team into play at the 2007 State Farm MVC Championships, Monday and Tuesday. Miller, who is a favorite to win the Valley Golfer of the Year, heads the young group at the Kansas City Country Club in Mission Hills, Kan.
The Redbirds were tabbed to finish second in the annual pre-championship poll, as voted by the league head coaches earlier this week. Tournament-host and defending champion Wichita State were a unanimous pick, receiving all first-place tallies and 81 total points to edge out the `Birds (71 points) by 10 points. However, Illinois State has already claimed two victories this season, with wins coming at the Bradley Fall Classic (Oct. 30-31) and Branson Creek Invitational (April 2-3).
While the `Birds were picked to finish behind the Shockers, head coach Ray Kralis is confident in his team and believes that with a complete team effort, the Redbirds can walk away with the conference championship.
"I'm very confident with where we are going into the conference championship," said Kralis. "I think we are playing the best golf of the year from a team standpoint. We have been getting the team efforts that we need in order to compete at this tournament. I think going in as the second seed is a credit to the guys for the way they have been playing and they have been getting better every week. Wichita State is a tough team, so we know it's going to take a pretty strong team effort to get it done."
Miller is also a favorite to win medalist honors at the Valley championships, as the Bloomington, Ill., native has already claimed three titles during the 2006-07 season. Currently third in the conference in stroke average (72.1), Miller won the 12th Annual UTSA Intercollegiate (Feb. 19-20), the Stevinson Ranch Invitational (March 26-27) and the Branson Creek Invitational (April 2-3). He became the first Redbird and MVC member to capture the individual crown at the Stevinson Ranch Invitational, while leading the `Birds to the team championship at Branson Creek.
Miller has also been named MVC Golfer of the Week five times this season (Sept. 20, Feb. 21, March 14 & 28, April 4). With his nine career golfer of the week honors, Miller is now tied for the most in Valley history.
"Matt Miller can play any golf course, he's clearly a difference maker," said Kralis. "He's the kind of player that can shoot low enough that it can change the whole complexion of the team's score. Everybody is aware of how good Matt is, which is an added benefit to us. Everyone knows right away that we have one of the best players in country in our lineup. It's not only comforting for us, but it's also an intimidation factor for the other teams."
Joining Miller in Kansas will be his younger brother, freshman Drew Miller, who is currently second on the team in stroke average (75.8). Sophomore Ben Murphy will also be traveling with the team, as well as freshman Tommy Bliefnick and senior Ryan Brown, who makes the trip after winning a highly-competitive qualifying tournament for the final spot in the lineup.
Founded in 1896, the Kansas City Country Club is the third-oldest country club west of the Mississippi River. The course has earned numerous accolades, including the No. 3 ranking for the top courses in Kansas as rated by Golf Digest magazine. It has also been the host to many regional and national tournaments, specifically the Trans-Mississippi Amateur, the Kansas and Missouri Amateurs and USGA qualifiers.
The Redbirds finished in fourth place in 2006 with a team total score of 886 and 12 shots behind the Shockers. ISU was led by Kris Wildenradt, who placed fourth and Miller, who tied for 14th. Both Miller and Wildenradt earned all-conference honors for their play throughout the season. Drake (884) finished the tournament in second, while Southern Illinois placed third with a total of 886.
The tournament will kick off with 36-holes of play beginning with a shotgun start at 8:30 a.m. on Monday. Tuesday's final-round of 18-holes will begin with tee times at 8 a.m.
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