By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma State men's golf head coach Val Verhunce offers instruction to Seawolves freshman golfer Matt Medeiros, a Petaluma graduate, at the Sonoma State Invitational in October. (Tyler Lobe / Sonoma State Athletics)Sonoma State men’s golf head coach Val Verhunce offers instruction to Seawolves freshman golfer Matt Medeiros, a Petaluma graduate, at the Sonoma State Invitational in October. (Tyler Lobe / Sonoma State Athletics)

Winning a national championship sets the bar high for Sonoma State men’s golf as the Seawolves take aim at another title going into the West regionals.

“There’s a little pressure. But it’s always good to push yourself to get better,” said Steven Warne, out of El Molino and the team’s top player.

Sonoma State is making its seventh regionals appearance in the past eight seasons with several of the Seawolves top players freshmen. One of the newcomers is Matt Medeiros from Petaluma.

“We’ve been starting to turn it up a little. A national title is always the goal,” Medeiros said.

Qualifying out of regionals for the NCAA Division II championships will be a tough task. Sonoma State is seeded sixth in the 10-team field opening play Monday at The Home Course, in Dupont, Wash. The top five teams advance, and those ahead of the Seawolves are each ranked in the nation’s top 20.

Still, the Seawolves are a confident squad. Sonoma State has a first and a pair of thirds in the past four tournaments.

“We’re playing the best that we’ve played all year. We definitely have to play well now,” Warne said.

With younger players counted on for key contributions, Sonoma State struggled in fall tournaments and the Seawolves were inconsistent early in the spring.

But improved short games and mental toughness by first-year players and more steady rounds from the returners has Sonoma State playing best when results count most.

Medeiros changed his approach to putting and dialed in greater distance control on greens.

“I started slow. You have to grind it out,” he said. “That’s just the way golf is. It can be a streaky thing.”

Players can have three different swings over a three day tournament — the format for NCAA matches — so short-term memories are important to keep scores low.

Solid games from fairways to holes separate the top players. Warne has put more practice time this season into chipping and putting.

“It takes a lot of pressure off your game, knowing you can get up and down,” he said.

To contend for tournament top spots, teams must limit multiple high scores. A struggling player’s high score is not counted, but a second poor result will push a team down the leader board. Golfers call this the ham-and-egg approach.

“We’re putting it all together at the same time now,” Medeiros said. “We’ve played more solid as a team.”

A win at the Cal State Bakersfield invitational in late March signaled Sonoma State’s move into contention for a national championship tournament spot.

Several teams were NCAA Division I programs. Sonoma State followed with third, fourth and third place finishes to complete spring season play. One of those came at a preview tournament on The Home Course a month back.

“It helps knowing when we play our best we can beat anybody,” Warne said. “Our confidence is really good right now. That’s the most important factor.”

The lone senior on the Seawolves squad, Warne — “grandpa” to the team — has been a consistent leader even if his scores don’t always dip to where he wants to finish. Despite not playing his best often enough, Warne still was a California Collegiate Athletic Association All-Conference selection.

Such are the expectations for a team typically among the best in the West and often there with the nation’s elite programs.

Some of Sonoma State’s most competitive play comes in practice as teammates compete for tournament spots.

“I like the competition,” Medeiros said. “There’s a lot of talent on our team.”

With the former All-Empire player among Sonoma State’s leaders, the Seawolves are young and hungry for a return to the national championships.

“Our goal is to win national championships,” said coach Val Verhunce. “We’ve got a proven track record.”