Gauchos Return to NCAA Regional for First Time Since 1999, Tee-Off Monday at Stanford

Nick Swanson (Photo by Tony Mastres)
Nick Swanson (Photo by Tony Mastres)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – On Monday, the UC Santa Barbara golf team will tee-off at an NCAA Regional for the first time since 1999 and the one connection between that team and the 2017 Gauchos is head coach Steve Lass. 

Lass, in his 24th season as the program's head coach, was named Big West Coach of the Year this week after leading UCSB to the league title and through one of its best seasons ever. 

"I'm not surprised that we got back to an NCAA Regional, but I am a little shocked that it took this long," Lass said. "That being said, it feels great to be in this position." 

The Gauchos will travel to the Regional at Stanford, one of the toughest regions in the country with 11 of the 13 teams – including No. 66 UCSB – ranked among the top-70 in the nation. Stanford and Baylor, ranked No. 4 and No. 9 respectively in the most recent Golfstat rankings, are the top seeded teams in the region. The field also includes No. 15 Oklahoma, No. 21 Georgia Tech, No. 27 Pepperdine, No. 33 North Carolina, No. 41 North Florida, No. 45 BYU, No. 51 Houston, No. 58 Ohio State, No. 106 Sacramento State and No. 196 South Dakota State. 

"This is a very, very good region but we're not intimidated," Lass said. "We've played in some really good tournaments this year, against schools from power confernces, and fared pretty well. At the Cowboy Classic we went head-to-head with Kansas and won and they just finished second at the Big 12 Championship."

The Gauchos not only defeated Kansas at the Wyoming Cowboy Classic, they competed against the Jayhawks, Oklahoma and North Florida at the Ka'anapali Collegiate Classic in November. That field also included No. 6 LSU, No. 14 Clemson and No. 23 Georgia. 

UCSB's lineup will include three First Team All-Big West Players and the league's Freshman of the Year who was also named second team all-league. 

Juniors Zach Smith and Brandon Bauman, and sophomore Nick Swanson were all first teamers, while Brett Bennett was the Freshman of the Year and a second team all-league selection. 

Smith enters the postseason as the team's leader in stroke average at 71.85 per round. He has had six top-10 finishes, including four in a row, and he was the medalist at the Wyoming Cowboy Classic when he shot a 10-under par 206. He also finished second at the Folino Invitational and closed the season with back-to-back fourth-place finishes at the Cal Poly Shootout and the Big West Championship.

Bauman, the 2016 Big West Player of the Year, is averaging 72.03 strokes per round. He has five top-10 finishes this season, including a second-place finish at the Sacramento State Intercollegiate and third-place finishes at the Bill Cullum Invitational and Wyoming Cowboy Classic. 

Swanson, who has played in eight tournaments, is averaging 72.05 shots per round. He had the best score in UCSB's match with Yale. Overall, Swanson had five top-10 finishes and had the team's best performance at the Big West Championship when he finished third with a 5-under par 211. 

Bennett competed in eight of the Gauchos' 11 tournaments this season and placed in the top 10 in four of those events. He tied for third at the PRO Compression Invitational after carding 210 at the three-round event. He finished tied for 17th at the Big West Conference Championship with a three-round total of 1-over 217.  The Huntington Beach, Calif., native enters next week's NCAA Stanford Regional sporting a 72.6 stroke average. 

The Gauchos' fifth starter is junior Willy Moffly who played in 10 tournaments this season and had a stroke average of 73.60. He had three top-10 finishes, including fifth-place finishes at the Bill Cullum Invitational and PRO Compression Invitational and a sixth-place finish at the Cal Poly Shootout.

The Stanford Regional, which will be played Monday-Wednesday, May 15-17, will be played at the Stanford Golf Course. 

"It's good to be playing in California," Lass said. "We're used to playing on California courses so we've seen all the different types of grasses that we'll see on the course and I think that bodes well for us."

Overall, this will be UCSB's fourth postseason appearance as a Division I program, all under Lass. The program previously advanced to NCAA Regionals in 1994, the head coaches first season, 1998, when it last won the Big West Tournament, and 1999.