SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Sam Houston State sat one stroke outside qualification for the NCAA Championship with just 18 holes left in the Stillwater Regional two weeks ago.
The Bearkats leader and star player, William Holcomb, was second on the individual leaderboard at the time, but was sitting in a hotel room by himself following the final-round action on his phone. The fifth-year senior was ruled out due to COVID-19 contact tracing, but that didn’t stop his teammates from rallying without him to punch their ticket to this week’s NCAA Championship, their first in program history.
“He told the guys, ‘Hey, give me a chance. Give me another chance,’” said head coach Brandt Kieschnick. “They gave him another chance to play.”
“I learned they’re a lot tougher than they seem sometimes and I guess, humblebrag, I made them tougher,” joked Holcomb after Thursday’s practice round at Grayhawk Golf Club. “It was awesome getting to see them go out and do that and getting updates from my dad and mom and wife. I was just sitting in the hotel, praying for them, pissed off. It was a roller coaster of emotions.”
“If I didn’t have COVID, I sure felt like I did after as emotionally spent as I was,” said Holcomb. “It was awesome to that, and it’s just a testament to coach and how he wants his program to be.”
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Kieschnick and the ‘Kats have five pillars for the program: Humility, hard work, wisdom, discipline and team.
“We don’t need any maverick molecules. We’re all here for each other,” explained Kieschnick. “We play for each other.”
That’s not just coach speak, either. Those pillars are the foundation of Sam Houston’s program, and the belief in the message has manifested into one of the best stories of the year in college athletics.
“Part of our culture is being the same guy every day, and I felt like if everyone did that, we would be fine,” added Kieschnick. “So I just thought, ‘Hey, this is a really good opportunity to prove the things we talked about work and will get us through.’”
“You had to give those kids hope,” he continued. “You understand, I just told them that their best player isn’t playing. So you have to deal with that, and then you’ve got to give them some hope, ‘Hey, we can do this. This is how we’re gonna do it. And we can make one heck of a story.’”
But the story isn’t done yet. Far from.
Sam Houston’s confidence is at an all-time time entering Friday’s first round alongside Georgia Tech and Louisville, and why shouldn’t it be?
The Bearkats ended the season with a win at the Bayou City Collegiate, a second-place finish at their Bearkat Invitational and another win at the Southland Conference Championship before the Stillwater Regional.
“I look at some of their games, and I’m like, ‘How do I beat them every time?’ They’re really good players,” Holcomb said of his teammates. “I know every one of them can play at the highest level. So it’s just them believing it and getting to do it on the big stage.”
The stage is set, the lights are on and it’s Sam Houston’s time to shine.