Friday, May 6, 2016 | 2 a.m.
The omelet bar would have to wait, because the UNLV men’s golf team didn’t want a mess of plates messing up the shot when the Golf Channel cut to them Thursday morning sitting around table at the Las Vegas Country Club.
It was a day of celebration for the program that’s heading to an NCAA-record 28th-straight regional, and those good times have been aplenty around UNLV’s campus lately. Men’s golf learned its regional draw the same day women’s golf started playing in its postseason tournament, and on Wednesday both men’s and women’s tennis tuned in to find out they’d be playing USC in their own regionals.
All four programs earned those berths by winning Mountain West Conference titles over the past two weeks, the first time one school has accomplished that in the league’s 17-year history. At a time when UNLV’s most visible program, men’s basketball, is going through a rather rigorous rebuild, the Country Club Quad is a positive sign that many Rebel programs are doing just fine.
“It’s just a lot of excitement when the other teams are doing well,” said women’s tennis coach Kevin Cory. “They’re the first people you hear from. I was calling Amy and texting Dwaine, and same thing I got calls from everybody as soon as we won.”
After finding out his 25th-ranked team was heading to Alabama for the Tuscaloosa Regional as a No. 5 seed, men’s golf coach Dwaine Knight thanked the supporters in the room for helping fund trips that get the team prepared for postseason moments like this. And to be able to get together and watch it revealed on a selection show — and then enjoy a delicious breakfast — instead of an emailed release, well, all the better.
“It’s a nice experience for us, kind of like they do in basketball,” Knight said.
A few hours later in northern California, the 18th-ranked women’s golf team wrapped up its first round at the Stanford Regional. Competing in its 14th straight regional, coach Amy Bush-Herzer’s squad entered as the No. 5 seed but sat in a tie for 13th at the end of the day. The top six teams advance to the championship in Eugene, Ore.
“We’re five shots out of the six spot; with this golf course and this team, that’s two holes. That’s what I’m so excited about,” said Bush-Herzer, whose team last year advanced to the NCAA Championship and finished 16th overall.
Meanwhile, both tennis teams are reconfiguring some schedules to make sure everyone completes their finals before leaving town on Wednesday. The women (24-1) head to Malibu to play 20th-ranked USC while the men (15-9) will be about 30 miles east in Los Angeles to face the 11th-ranked Trojans.
“It’s too bad we aren’t playing at the same place,” said men’s tennis coach Owen Hambrook, whose team reached the regionals for the first time since 2007.
The programs all pull for each other, but that’s especially true around the Frank and Vicki Fertitta Tennis Complex. Hambrook has been the men’s coach since 2004, and before that he spent four seasons as Cory’s assistant on the women’s team.
On Sunday, as the men prepared at home to snap Boise State’s streak of four straight league titles, Hambrook checked in on his counterpart.
“Everyone feeds off each other,” Hambrook said. “I watched the women’s final online before ours.”
The women’s team, which is heading to its first regional since 2013, was in Fort Collins, Colo., for its championship victory against Fresno State. Then, Cory said, “as soon as we finished our match, we knew the guys were getting ready to play. So we’re driving to the Denver airport and the girls are following it on their phones saying, Hey, the guys are up, they won the doubles point.”
The women’s golf team starts round two of three this morning at 8:30, and Bush-Herzer is confident they’ve learned better how to attack the course. Some of that knowledge came from men’s golf assistant coach Philip Rowe, a Stanford alum and former Cardinal assistant who shared some insights.
It’s especially easy to root on fellow Rebels when they’re so willing to help each other.
“I’m so happy for the university,” Bush-Herzer said. “The last couple of weeks have been great for us at a time that we really needed it.”
The men’s basketball saga is (hopefully) over, while the men’s golf team’s first league title since 2002 helped that program overcome its own unfortunate incident. A week before the conference championship, senior leader AJ McInerney was seriously injured in a freak accident while giving a friend a piggyback ride.
His collegiate career suddenly over, the Coronado High grad implored his teammates to go get the ring he’d been chasing since stepping on campus. That’s exactly what they did, and though McInerney can’t yet eat solid food because of his fractured jaw, the team hopes he could travel if it advances through regionals.
“That (title) was probably not predictable when you lose a real key player like that right before conference championships,” Knight said. “I think we’re handling adversity pretty well as a group and we’re playing well, so those are two big ingredients as we go forward.”
All four teams have goals beyond just getting to this point, but even if none advance any further it’s still a tremendous accomplishment for the athletics department. Plus, there’s likely more to come next season.
Knight and Cory bring back the majority of their rosters while Bush-Herzer and Hambrook have not a single senior between them. So clear off the table and dust off the trophy case, because these programs are ready for their close-ups.