WWU Vikings

Strickland determined to lead Vikings back to National Championship

Western Washington University’s men’s golf team rolls into the South Central/West Regional on Monday, May 4, in Vallejo, Calif., knowing it can do better.

After a good start that included an eighth-place finish among some of the region’s top teams at the Cal State-Monterey Bay Invitational, the Vikings hit a bit of a rough patch.

“We have a lot of new guys and just made some changes to the lineup and shuffled things around,” senior captain Mark Strickland said in a phone interview. “We just have a young team in general. I think we’re getting better and the last tournament was good momentum toward regionals. I think we’re all getting our game in shape and looking in the right direction.”

WWU took second at the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Championships last week, and earned the No. 10 seed in the region.

Strickland, a second-year captain, knows his team can advance back to the NCAA Division II National Championship.

“We’ve played well against some of the more highly ranked teams in the nation,” Strickland said. “We know we have the potential to get it done, so I’m excited about regionals. I think we’ll all play well.”

As for himself, Strickland feels his season has mirrored the team’s. He played well at the beginning, but said school commitments may have caused his golf game to stumble down the stretch.

Strickland’s golf career has extended beyond just college golf, as he won the Bellingham Amateur tournament in 2013, and competed in the U.S. Amateur Championships last year. Once he graduates, he plans on moving to Arizona to focus on his golf career and try to go pro by next fall.

In college, he has seen some ups and downs for the Vikings.

WWU reached the National Championship in 2013 and, after making it to match play by only a couple of strokes, it knocked off the No. 1 seed to advance to the semifinal.

Men’s golf coach Steve Card took the job as WWU’s athletic director the following year, and Luke Bennett stepped in to coach the Vikings. The transition was smooth, especially because Bennett was a former WWU golfer himself, Strickland said.

“The first year we had Luke as coach, I was named captain,” Strickland said. “It put a lot of responsibility on me helping him. My responsibility may have been more than other captains in recent years were. It’s been fun getting to know the guys individually and helping them with their games.”

But Strickland was also quick to point out that coaching didn’t have a bearing on the Vikings’ rough patch this season.

“If no one is playing really well, it has a snowball effect,” he said. “If one guys steps up and plays well, the other guys will. I was supposed to be the guy to step up, but it was just tough. I think we have the team going in the right direction, and with a positive attitude. Our games are there.”

Other Vikings who have been relied on to step up include sophomore Chris Hatch and senior Kyle Schrader, who was the medalist at the regional tournament in 2013. WWU is the No. 10 seed out of the West Region, and will have to move up to be in the South Central/West Regional’s top five teams to advance to the National Championships.

Strickland is determined and believes his team can make the return to Division II’s highest level. His fondest memory of college golf was from the 2013 trip.

“That was the best experience and I really want to have that again,” he said. “Going there with the team and being the underdogs, then making it to match play and beating the top seed, it was just fun to have that experience with all the guys.”

WWU kicks off at the three-day, 54-hole South Central/West Regional on Monday, May 4, at Hiddenbrook Golf Course in Vallejo, Calif. Cal State-East Bay is the host school.