Positivity, gut feelings power UNC Charlotte to Team of Year Title

GEORGETOWN, S.C. — About this time last year, Louis Monetti and Michael Fugaro were sitting in their apartment watching the Bassmaster College Classic Bracket thinking about how cool it would be to compete for a spot in the Bassmaster Classic.

This year, they won’t have to imagine what it would be like any longer.

By winning the Team of the Year for the 2022 Strike King Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops, the UNC Charlotte duo automatically clinched their spot in the prestigious tournament.

Monetti and Fugaro were officially announced as the winners ahead of the Strike King Bassmaster College Series National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops at Winyah Bay and won $2,500 checks as well as a number of brand new Humminbird products from Johnson Outdoors.

“It is pretty amazing. It is something we set out for at the beginning of the year, and it is something special,” Monetti said. “Just consistency and a lot of hard work. We tried to go out every week trying to outwork the field. There were no special tricks or anything like that, just a lot of hours on the water.”

Starting the season with a 26th-place finish at the Harris Chain, Monetti and Fugaro followed that up with a 13th at Lake Norman, an 18th at Norfork and then sealed the title with an 11th-place finish at Saginaw Bay. With 937 points, they outlasted the Kentucky Christian team of Matt and Lafe Messer as well as Brooks Anderson and Parker Guy from Emmanuel College, who finished tied for second.

Once they clinched at Saginaw, after a run back through some rough water, they didn’t want to know where they stood. But it didn’t take very long for them to find out that they had enough to clinch.

“We pulled up to the ramp and some of our buddies said, ‘You’ve got it,’” Fugaro said. “What we had would win us team of the year. I just remember looking over at Louis, and he didn’t say a word. His jaw probably hit the bottom of the boat. It’s a surreal experience. I remember last year, we sat in my apartment and watched the Bracket and Louis saying, ‘I should have been there.’”

A positive mental attitude on the boat is a huge part of the success. With the exception of one day on Norfork, Fugaro and Monetti stayed in a good headspace which helped them make good decisions.

“I have never been the kind of guy to get deep into Xs and Os and do a lot of map study. I am a big gut instinct type of person,” Monetti said. “I found the best way to make gut instinct and feelings work is, you think of a guy like John Cox, a positive mindset. It contributes to a good instinct and feel in the boat. You have to be able to trust yourself. If you are down on your luck and miserable, it is hard to trust yourself. We fished free and positive all year and had a good time with it.”

For most of his college career, Monetti fished without a partner and qualified for two National Championships doing so. Last year at the St. Lawrence River, he had the bites to catch a 24-pound bag on the first day and be in contention for the win, but many of those bites never entered the boat.

This year, he and Fugaro can fish Winyah Bay comfortably knowing they are locked into the Bracket.

“It is relieving and freeing,” Monetti said. “This is my third National Championship and to have the end goal already done is pretty insane to think about. It has allowed us to fish really free this week, and I hope that leads into (Day 1) and the next day. It is beneficial to fish with that freedom and with a relaxed mindset.”

For Fugaro, this was his first season fishing the College Series circuit. Entering his freshman year, Fugaro had one spinning rod that he took to farm ponds and golf courses for fun. Then he met Monetti, who took him out on the boat to High Rock Lake for the first time.

“Louis caught one bass, and it was a 2 1/2-pounder. It was the biggest bass I had ever seen,” Fugaro said.

From that day, it motivated Fugaro to improve his skills. During a break in classes caused by COVID-19, he bought his first baitcaster and spent time learning and dialing in his skillset. Once they returned to campus, Monetti and Fugaro teamed up and won every club tournament they fished.

“I was contributing, and I thought to myself, ‘This is pretty cool,’” he said. “I knew he always fished the College Series alone, and I didn’t want to screw up his chances of going pro. One night he asked me if I wanted to fish them, and now we are here. It has been a crazy experience.”

After a slow start to practice on Winyah Bay, Fugaro and Monetti found a little deal that they hope will carry them to a National Championship title. They feel if they can catch 10 pounds per day, they will qualify for Championship Sunday.

Follow all the action from Winyah Bay on Bassmaster.com. The Day 1 weigh-in will begin at 2:30 p.m. ET from Front Street in downtown Georgetown.