Bruin golf squads among NAIA's elite

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Posted: Sunday, May 11, 2014 12:00 am

When Rob Brown and Shelly Liddick teed off Bellevue University's men's and women's golf teams in 2011, the coaching duo had big plans for the inaugural programs.

Three seasons later, the Bruin teams are living up to those lofty expectations.

Both teams are ranked in the top 15 in the nation by the NAIA and both are preparing for their respective NAIA National Tournaments after dominating conference tourney play.

The Bruin women are ranked eighth and are on a 10-tournament win streak, dating back to the fall season.

BU's men are ranked 14th and have won four tourneys this spring.

Brown, who guides the men's team and Liddick, the women's coach, brought a wealth of playing and coaching experience to the table when the Bruin programs opened played three years ago.

“This is where we thought we could be as a program,” Liddick said. “BU is a great setting for our teams and from top to bottom, we've received the support to be successful.”

Liddick's hasn't just been successful this season, they've been downright dominant.

In addition to their 10-tourney win streak, they have won 14 of the last 15 tourneys in which they've competed and haven't finished out of the top five in any of the 19 events they've played in.

“I think what's helped us the most is our depth,” Liddick said. “Anyone of our kids can shoot under par and it's rare for a team to have that kind of depth.”

It's not just what they're doing on the course that makes them successful. It's what they're doing in the clubhouse and on the van rides that has fostered a winning attitude.

“People want to talk about golf being an individual sport, but these girls possess a chemistry I've never seen,” she said. “They have a connection and they have each other's back. When we recruit new players, we're not just looking at how they play, we're looking at how they're going to blend in.”

They've blended in with players from all different cultures and backgrounds.

Their top five players hail from France, Bolivia, Mexico and North Platte.

Their top player, conference champion Renee Santoyo, is a sophomore from Guadalupe, Mexico and has taken the leadership role on a team that features six sophomores on its eight-player roster.

“Renee has natural leadership skills,” Liddick said. “She's the first one out on the course and the last one to leave. She has so much heart.”

Santoyo and her four varsity teammates, Karissa Moreland, Charlene Dubois, Maria Saavedra and Natalia Soria all were named first-team members by the Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference and each of them is ranked in the top 100 NAIA players by golfstat.com

Saavedra, Santoyo and Soria each played at nationals a year ago, guiding the Bruins to an 11th place finish. Liddick is looking for even more when the Bruins return to Wilderness Ridge Golf Course in Lincoln for the national tourney May 20-23.

“Having played nationals last year, they understand how good the competition is,” Liddick said. “A goal for us is a top five finish and that's going to come down to course management for us.”

Brown's teams has plenty of national tourney experience as well, placing fifth in the event a season ago. When they take the course in Daytona Beach, Fla. next week, Brown is hopeful the Bruins will have saved their best for last.

“We're a young team who really doesn't feel like we've peaked yet,” he said. “I always talk to the guys about playing the way you can play, not the way you do play. I don't think we've played as good as we can play.”

Much like Liddick's group, Brown's team has an international flavor with seven of his eight players hailing from outside the U.S. borders.

Mike Hannon, the lone Nebraskan from Hastings, is coming off a victory in the MCAC Tournament, a title which earned him MCAC Player of the Year.

He joins Jose Vega, Tomas Overejo, Nicolas Herrera and Nicolas Handal on a squad that placed four players on the All-MCAC team and has four ranked in the top 100.

“They've been a very supportive group of each other,” Brown said. “Herrera won a tournament in Las Vegas and after his final regulation hole, the guys came over and dumped water on him. He had to go out and play his playoff hole soaking wet, but he hits driver-wedge on a Par-5 and makes a birdie putt to win the tournament.”

The teams have also been supportive of each other. They play many of their practice rounds together at Eagle Hills and have pushed each other's games to new levels.

“They strive to push each other and that builds a culture of success for both programs,” Liddick said. “Both teams have bought into what we're trying to build here.”

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