By SCOTT WARD
NORTH STONINGTON, Conn. -- Freshman Steven Kupcho led Northern Colorado in six events this season, and he rose to that level again Tuesday during the final round of this year's America Sky Men's Golf Conference Championship.
Kupcho, a first-year standout from Westminster, battled less-than-favorable conditions at Lake of Isles golf course to post a 1-under-par 71 (the low round of the day) and move into a two-way tie for sixth with a three-day score of 226 (+10).
He started the day tied for 20th, but a 4-under 32 on the back nine helped him move up the leaderboard and helped the Bears tie for fifth.
Northern Colorado carded a 321 (+33) team score Tuesday and totaled 948 for the Championship.
"We didn't play all that well today, actually," Northern Colorado coach Chuck Scheinost said before his team made its way to New York City for the night before flying back to Greeley tomorrow. "We ran into tough weather again, for the second time in two days, and that was a real separator again. That really kept us from moving even higher up the board than what we did.
"We need to work on staying strong in the elements, but that was a factor today and this whole tournament has been a learning experience. We'll be better for having gone through it."
Kupcho was 4-over after six holes Tuesday before sinking birdie putts on five of the next 11 holes.
That was enough to earn him a spot on the six-player 2012 All-America Sky Men's Golf Conference Second Team and earn the league's Freshman of the Year honor. He's the second Bear to earn the latter, joining Steve Bidne, who claimed it in 2008.
"Steven played a phenomenal round after struggling early," Scheinost said. "He played really well, and I'm proud of him for his finish. We were a young team this year, and he led us all the way. The way he wrapped it up is hopefully a sign of things to come for him and this program."
Sophomore Ben Krueger had four bogeys and two double-bogeys before the turn Tuesday but bounced back and was just 2-over on the back nine to finish with an 81 (+9) in the third round. His Championship score of 238 put him tied for 20th.
Krueger and Kupcho were the only Bears to finish 10 or fewer strokes over par Tuesday. Junior Kevin Collignon (240, T-28) shot an 11-over 83, while freshmen Charlie Mroz (249, T-46) and Steve Connell (248, T-44) both finished with 14-over 86s.
Sacramento State held on to win America Sky's 2012 title and its first NCAA automatic bid with a 54-hole score of 878 (+14). The Hornets, who will represent the league later this month in the NCAA Championships, finished 42 strokes ahead of second-place Houston Baptist (920).
Sacramento State senior Cameron Rappleye led the Championship from start to finish and earned individual-medalist honors with an even-par 72 Tuesday.
Utah Valley's Mason Casper earned 2012 America Sky Player of the Year honors (an award based on a combination of rankings from Golf Stat and Golf Week.com) and led the five-member All-ASMGC First Team, which also included Rappleye, Sacramento State's Jordan Weir and Jake Johnson and Binghamton's Bryce Edmister.
Kupcho led the six-member Second Team, joining Hartford's Andy Ariens, Sacramento State's Ryan Williams, Weber State's Jordan Herzog, Seattle's Rob Seibly and Binghamton's David Celura.
Sacramento State coach Chris Hill garnered the America Sky Coach of the Year award.
"Sacramento State is a senior-laden squad," Scheinost said, "so they're going to be looking to reload like we did this year. With the talent we have coming in next year we definitely have a chance to push the bar even farther ahead and compete for a championship again, like we have the last few years.
"I'm proud of the guys. We kind of hung in there in what was a really rough week. Not the way we anticipated going out on what was really a productive year for us, with a bunch of young guys, but as a whole, we really put ourselves in position to do some good things this year."
Mason Casper, Utah Valley
Grant Rappleye, Sacramento State
Jordan Weir, Sacramento State
Matt Smith, Hartford
Bryce Edmister, Binghamton
Jake Johnson, Sacramento State
David Celura, Binghamton
Steven Kupcho, Northern Colorado
Jordan Herzog, Weber State
Cameron Rappleye, Sacramento State