The right path: Sebens buoys Parkland men's golf program

The right path: Sebens buoys Parkland men's golf program

URBANA — Corbin Sebens played on one of the most successful Parkland golf teams in program history. Before continuing his golf career at Eastern Illinois, the then-freshman from Monticello helped the Cobras to an eighth-place finish at the 2009 national championships.

Now that he’s in his fourth season coaching his alma mater? Sebens has greater objectives in mind for Parkland golf, continuing with today’s first round at the NJCAA Division II National Championships at GlenLakes Golf Club in Foley, Ala. 

“Deep down, I want my guys to beat that,” Sebens said about his own Parkland team’s nationals finish. “I’ve kind of helped them get there, and I think we can. We’re going to see how far we can take this program. We want to win championships. That’s the ultimate goal.”

This year’s national tournament is a repeat trip for Parkland. The Cobras finished 10th last season. Sophomores Tyler Woods and Andreas Nielsen returned this spring to lead the team back, with the former winning the individual Region 24/District I title.

Consecutive trips to the national championships are only the beginning of what Sebens had in mind for the program when he took over the team for good in July 2015 after serving one season as interim coach. Consistent success mattered.

“We need to make this a tradition of getting back there every year,” Sebens said. “We need to make it a habit of winning conference, winning the regional and compete for national championships every year.”

Sebens is already seeing the success of the past two seasons play a role as he continues to build the program. Word has spread to potential recruits that Parkland golf is being established as one of the best programs in the country.

The Cobras head into this year’s national championships ranked seventh nationally. Three Parkland golfers — freshman Kristian Kristensen along with Woods and Nielsen — are ranked among the top 30 players in NJCAA Division II.

“I feel confident not only in myself, but in the team,” Woods said. “We’re solid from 1-5. I think what really just helps me is our team is very competitive.”

“I feel like (the Region 24 win) helped us prepare for the tournament,” Nielsen added. “It showed us what we need to work on, and it also builds up confidence. We’ve seen that we can play good in some rounds, but we can also play bad. We know we have to play hard.”

Continuing to build the program with players at that level is the next step for Sebens.

“We’ve got to find the right type of guys who are going to believe in the system, believe in me and trust me and what I’m teaching them,” he said. “What we’ve built is only going to help continue to build that. Kids are seeing, ‘Well, Parkland, they’re top 10 in the country the last two years.’ I think that’s what’s going to be intriguing to a lot of kids. 

“I get a lot of stuff every day from kids wanting to come play here. Now, we’re to the level where we’ve got to establish and keep that high level of competing on a national level. I think kids are starting to realize Parkland College athletics are for real — not just golf.”

That several of Parkland’s top golfers will hit the NCAA Division I ranks next is another part of the program Sebens can sell. Nielsen is headed to Eastern Kentucky next season. Fellow sophomore Connor Poffinbarger is bound for Eastern Illinois, and Woods has interest from multiple Division I teams.

They’ve bought into Sebens’ vision. That their coach followed a similar path helped accomplish that.

“It creates more credibility for him,” said Nielsen, who came to Parkland from Ikast, Denmark. “I was working hard back home, but I wasn’t as focused as I should be. He kind of helped me into getting more focused on playing golf.”

The focus now is on the national championships. Last season’s 10th-place finish was a disappointment. Even with this season’s successes — three tournament victories, including the Region 24 title — the Cobras haven’t reached their peak potential.  

“I told them the other day we haven’t played our best as a team yet this year,” Sebens said. “Some guys have shown some special highlights throughout tournaments. As a whole team we haven’t, one through five, played our best yet.

“This team has worked so hard. We won an event this spring, came back and they went straight to practice. They’re always working hard, and they want to win. That’s the special thing about this group.”