KISSIMMEE, FL – There were a lot of nervous souls in the audience at Reunion Resort's Watson course Friday afternoon when Florida Southern sophomore Christian Anderson stepped on to the 18th green. Already down one point in the match, the Moccasins couldn't afford to give away another one, and Anderson was all square with Lynn University's Mateo Gomez. For the Knights, it was a chance to drop the hammer. Instead, Anderson delivered for the Moccasins, winning the hole and his individual match by one stroke, swinging everything to Florida Southern's favor in the process. When juniors John VanDerLaan and John Coultas picked up their own wins a little bit later, Florida Southern had a 3-2 win over Lynn that gives the Moccasins the 13th national title in team history.
The final match of the 2017 NCAA Division II National Finals was every bit as tight as a championship battle should be, with neither team gaining a clear advantage until the closing moments. It could have gone either way, but ultimately it went Florida Southern's as the Moccasins won their first title since the NCAA went to a match play format in 2011. It's the sixth under current head coach Doug Gordin, with the others coming in 1996, '98, '99, 2000, and 2010. He won this one with a team of underclassmen that featured two juniors (Coultas and John VanDerLaan), two sophomores (Anderson and Michael VanDerLaan) and one freshman (Chase Ibbotson). The Moccasins, who were ranked No. 4 in the country coming into the tournament, had to beat No. 1 West Florida in the semifinals, and No. 2 Lynn in the finals to earn the trophy.
The day actually got off to a rough start for Florida Southern. Ibbotson, playing in the first group against Lynn senior Martin Cancino, hit his tee shot into the rough left of the fairway. Through no fault of his own, and after a substantial delay, Ibbotson was forced to take a two-stroke penalty for playing the wrong ball on his next shot and ended up with a seven on the opening par-4. Cancino parred the hole, setting Ibbotson back three shots.
Ibbotson kept his composure though and by No. 8 was back within one shot of Cancino. He ripped off eight consecutive pars before a bogey on 11 ended that streak and dropped him three strokes behind Cancino for the second time. Again Ibbotson fought back and with a birdie on 17 trimmed the gap back to one. Though he was unable to square things after that, it did give the Mocs a little breathing room in case a tie-breaker was needed.
Halfway through the day, Anderson, Coultas, and John VanDerLaan all had even-par 35s and all three had the lead by a single stroke. Anderson, who ended up with a 71, got there with a front nine that saw him record one birdie, one bogey and seven pars; Coultas earned his 35 with nine pars. VanDerLaan had a pair of birdies on 6 and 8, but two earlier bogeys evened his score out. Anderson might have had a larger lead, but Gomez hit a nice shot out of a stand of trees on one side of the No. 4 fairway to salvage a bogey. That came right after he had birdied the par-3 No. 3.
The tide seemed to turn for Florida Southern when Coultas and Lynn's Manny Torres, playing in the final position, went through 11. Torres had tied their match with a birdie on 7, and it remained knotted when each parred No. 8. After that, however, Coultas reeled off three straight pars while Torres bogeyed the holes to fall three back and never recovered. They played stroke for stroke after that, with Coultas finishing his round with a team-best 69, with either a par or birdie on every hole, and knocking down the putt that officially clinched the title for Florida Southern.
John VanDerLaan provided the tying point for the Moccasins in the team match, coming in right behind Anderson. It was an interesting round for the junior, who along with Coultas was named a First Team All-American on Wednesday. He had a team-high four birdies but also had a team-high five bogeys. The end result was still a solid 71, which gave him a 2-stroke win over Felix Kvarnstrom, the 2017 Division II National Freshman-of-the-Year. When it counted most, VanDerLaan was on top of his game, sinking a birdie on the par-3 No. 15 to go ahead by two strokes. Then, after a birdie by Kvarnstrom on the par-5 No. 17 cut the gap back to one, VanDerLaan again stepped up on 18 to win another hole and secure the second point for the Moccasins.
As a further reward for VanDerLaan, Friday's round allowed him to set Florida Southern's new team scoring record with a 70.26 season stroke average. Jeff Klauk had held the previous record of 70.57 since the 1999-2000 season. It's a record that has also gone through the hands of Rocco Mediate and Lee Janzen.
Michael VanDerLaan, who was playing in the fourth group Friday, matched his brother's score with a one-over par 71. He was also second to his brother with three birdies and turned it up down the stretch when he birdied or parred eight of the final nine holes while matched against Lynn freshman Tomas Gana, who had already played in this year's Master's. Gana gave the Knights their second point Friday by carding a 69 that equaled Coultas' score as the best in Friday's championship match.
This year marked the fourth time in the last five years that both teams in the national championship match came from the Sunshine State Conference, and the SSC has had at least one team in all of them. It was Lynn's fourth appearance since the format was adopted in 2011, but the Knights have been runner-up all four times. On three of those occasions, the Knights have been beaten by another SSC school: Barry in 2013, Nova Southeastern in 2015, and Florida Southern in 2017. The Moccasins have now given the SSC six straight national titles in men's golf.