If the 2021-22 campaign ended up being a rebuilding season for the Nevada men's golf team, nobody would have been surprised.
After all, the Wolf Pack lost its top three golfers in the offseason, including Sam Harned, one of the best players in program history, and Sam Meek and Brendan MacDougall, who combined to make it to the championship match of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball. That trio formed the backbone of a Wolf Pack team that had reached three straight NCAA Regionals.
But this doesn't appear to be a rebuilding season for Nevada, at least not if the early-season results are any indication. The Wolf Pack finished second out of 21 teams in its season-opening tournament and won the 16-team Husky Invitational earlier this week, overcoming a 17-stroke deficit in the final round and winning the tournament via a tiebreaker. The early-season showing should do nothing but boost the team's confident for the rest of the season.
"The guys caught fire the last day for sure," Wilner said on Friday's NSN Daily. "We actually played pretty well the first day. I kind of joke around, but it's kind of the most grueling day in college athletics. We play 36 holes. We walked 14.2 miles and these guys are carrying bags on their shoulders. And I actually thought we played pretty well the first day, but we definitely caught fire on the final round. And I've never heard of a 17-stroke comeback win. It doesn't happen very often."
With Nevada's recent success of reaching NCAA Regionals, the Wolf Pack wasn't going to lower its expectations for the 2021-22 season despite some key losses.
"This program is not about me, but from a coaching standpoint, if we were to be able to lose our No, 1, No. 2 and No. 3 players on paper and get inside the top 60 (in the nation), which I'm pretty sure we will be right now, and if we continue this that'll be a pretty big accomplishment," Wilner said. "Again, this is not me, it's about my guys. But I think this team has a lot of firepower. This team is really good. They're experienced. They're not afraid. They very competitive."
It was Nevada's seventh team tournament title under Wilner since he was elevated from assistant coach to head coach in 2010. Wilner joined the program in 2008 and has slowly built it into one of the Wolf Pack's top achievers. Wilner's team reloaded this year rather than going into a rebuilding phase. He added transfers Quim Vidal Mora (Jacksonville State), AJ Lintunen (Chattanooga) and Michael Sarro (Cal Baptist), each making the starting five in the first two events. Vidal Mora and Lintunen finished tied for fifth at the Husky Invitational at 6 under.
"We had a really good offseason with with recruiting," Wilner said. "We were fortunate enough to get three really quality players off the transfer portal. And then the guys that we have at home are talented and they've stepped up in a big way. Qualifying is intense. We have a roster of 11, so there's some quality players that don't get to travel, but the qualifying parameters and everything is good for us, and it builds competition, which is our No. 1 goal in our program."
Wilner has largely build his program via transfers in recent seasons, losing some quality players like Joey Vrzich, who won the national title with Pepperdine last year, but also having his share of success stories via the transfer market. Like every other college sport in recent years, the transfer pipeline has become more plentiful. Four of Nevada's five starters are Division I transfers, and the Wolf Pack has another D-I transfer as a reserve.
"The transfer portal is what it is," Wilner said. "I've lost a couple of players, but more importantly I've gained a lot of players from it. I'm on that thing every day. It's saved on my phone and I pop it up. It does the face ID, and I'm on there every day. So the advantage of a transfer portal is you kind of know what you're getting. You can see the players already coming in. They've already experienced college. They've experience college life and coaching, players and tournaments.
"I'm a patient recruiter, but I'm also impatient. I'll be patient to find the right person, but when I find that right person, I don't like sitting around and waiting for potentially better offers for them. They either want to come play for us or they don't. So I am kind of impatient on that aspect. But if you look at our history, we've been successful with transfers, and I think our coaching style and just the way we do things, we're good for transfers. So I don't see that going away any time in the near future for me."
The team returns to action Oct. 11 at the Wolf Pack Classic, which is being held for the first time in a decade. It will mark Nevada's first multi-team event hosted in Reno since the 2011-12 season. The field will include UNLV, New Mexico, BYU, St. Mary’s, San Diego, San Francisco, Long Beach State, Fresno State, Florida Atlantic, Air Force, San Jose State, UC Davis, Loyola Marymount and Nevada. The individual winner will earn a spot in next year's Barracuda Championship, the PGA Tour's annual stop in the Reno/Tahoe area.
"It's exciting for Hidden Valley to offer up their golf course and then Chris Hoff, the tournament director of the Barracuda, to offer a PGA Tour exemption for the winner individually," Wilner said. "I think our field is pretty incredible for the first year. It usually takes a little bit to build up. For for us to be able to host a tournament in our community, it's welcome to all the public, and for us to see a golf course that we see on a weekly basis is obviously a huge advantage for us."
Wilner admits he didn't know how sharp Nevada would look early this season considering the players he lost from last year, but the Wolf Pack hasn't shown any signs of slippage.
"We're pleasantly surprised," Wilner said. "With kind of getting fortunate as we did in the transfer portal with the three players coming in and then who we had coming back, our expectations were high. But it's a dream start to finish second and then to finish first and then have 2.5 weeks off before our home tournament. It's a pretty good scenario for us."
You can watch Jacob Wilner's full NSN Daily interview below.