Philipp Matlari

WVU senior Philipp Matlari admires a shot.

Two strokes.

Two strokes were all that stood between the West Virginia golf team and a bid to play in the National Championship last season. And while the sting of narrowly missing out on being able to play for the sport’s top honor may still linger within the team this season, just being so close serve as a reminder that WVU’s newest varsity team is on the right trajectory.

Now, in the early stages of the 2019-20 season, the team is continuing its upward trend, finding itself ranked No. 25 in the first coach’s poll of the season. This is the first time the team has been ranked since its reinstatement in 2015-16.

When Sean Covich accepted the head coaching position in 2014, he knew that he would be building a program completely from scratch.

“I literally didn’t have an office,” Covich said. “We didn’t have a golf ball, didn’t have a place to practice, didn’t have a recruit committed. But that was the same reason I took the job, because it was a once in a lifetime [opportunity], you get to make it how you want.”

Now in the program’s fifth year of varsity play, Covich’s program has started to find the success he envisioned from the beginning.

It started at the Big 12 Championship last season. A 10th place finish propelled the team to an appearance at the NCAA Louisville Regional, the first such appearance for Covich’s squad. A sixth place finish at Louisville kept the team out of the National Championship, but Covich thinks that pain has helped keep the team moving this season.

“That hurt. That hurt a lot, we still think about it,” Covich said. “I think that disappointment is helping us stay motivated, instead of looking at the rankings. We know what that pain felt like so let’s make sure to do everything we can to not be in that position [again].”

Senior Philipp Matlari is one of the players that experienced coming so close last season and he is not content with just being ranked this season.

“[Being ranked is] really cool for us but on the other hand as we were at regionals and just two shots behind the top five, we saw what our potential is,” Matlari said. “It’s nice to be top 25 and we’re happy with that, but obviously there’s always something to improve, and our goal is to be number one at some point.”

Covich said being ranked in the coach’s poll feels good just because it shows that other teams are taking notice of WVU golf.

“That means more to me, the coaches actually respecting the program and putting us up there. I don’t know if we’re the 25th [best] team in the country, I have no idea. It just shows that we have the potential to make it to regionals again and see what happens after that.”

Just being ranked will not impress many familiar with Big 12 golf, however, as Baylor (3), Texas Tech (6), Oklahoma (9) and Texas (10) all currently find themselves ranked in the top 10.

“When they announced that men’s golf was coming back to West Virginia, you knew it was going to be in the best conference in college golf,” Covich said. “We go to the Big 12 Championship, we may finish 10th, may finish third, whatever. It’s never going to hurt us because you’re playing almost all top-25 teams, so being a part of the conference is only going to help you get better.”

Wherever the team may end up this season, Covich knows that they are on the right path.

“It’s a lot like driving without the lights on at night, but you end up where you need to be. As long as we’re improving, whether it’s one or two spots in the rankings, I’m happy. We’re progressing.”