UNC-Charlotte trying to hold off field for Team of Year title

Louis Monetti and Andrew Weaver of UNC-Charlotte

Bangor Charter Township, Md. — The 1996 Ranger boat that Louis Monetti and Michael Fugaro fish out of might be one of the oldest boats in the Strike King Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops field this season. In fact, the boat didn’t even have a graph at the bow until recently.

But Monetti and Fugaro have proven you don’t always need the latest and greatest to have an impressive season. The UNC-Charlotte duo entered this week’s regular season finale at Saginaw Bay in first place in the Team of the Year standings with 697 points, a one-point advantage over the Kentucky Christian University team of Lafe and Matt Messer.

“There have been a lot of ups and downs,” Monetti said. “We have had a lot of really important, really big fish catches. We’ve fished hard all day, and it has been a culmination of fishing my whole life and working hard. We have given it our all every week we have fished. We have really tried to dial the fish in.”

With a finesse approach, the duo have not had a finish worse than 30th so far this season, finishing 26th at the first event of the season at the Harris Chain before securing top 15 finishes at Lake Norman and Norfork Lake.

“The turning point was in Arkansas,” Fugaro said. “We were 26th at Harris Chain and 13th at Norman, so we knew we had something going. We went to a state we’ve never been to, a lake we’ve never fished, and we fished our butts off that week and placed 18th. We calculated the points ourselves and figured out we were leading.”

Monetti fished by himself last year and while he had a solid finish at Lake Hartwell, he struggled with consistency. With Fugaro as his partner this season, who is fishing for the first time in the College Series, the attitude in the boat has changed for the better.

“It has made a difference for sure,” Monetti said. “Michael has caught some key fish for us this year, and we work great as a team. There has been a great vibe on the boat. Keeping a positive mindset and feeling like we are going to go out there and try to win every tournament has been huge.”

Now, at the final points event of the season, Fugaro and Monetti are going all in to not only claim the Team of the Year title, but also earn a first place trophy. While he caught impressive numbers of largemouth last year, Monetti said they will have a different approach this time around.

“Practice was interesting,” Monetti said. “We spent time on largemouth and smallmouth, but at the end of the day, we knew with a one-point lead we needed to try and win. We found some on the bed and some that aren’t. We are making a 50 mile run with nine guaranteed fish. It is going to be interesting, but we know it is the only way it can be won.”

Lafe and Matt have had an impressive season in their own right, landing more than 61 pounds to win at the Harris Chain and backing that up with a 50th at Lake Norman and a seventh-place at Norfork. With a Top 10 finish, they feel like they can claim the Team of the Year title.

“This year has been nuts,” Matt said. “We’ve been grinding our whole lives to get opportunities like this, and so far, the year has been awesome. Hopefully we can finish it strong. The Harris Chain was an unreal experience. We slipped a little at Norman and then got a pretty good finish at Norfork. That brought us back and gave us a shot.”

While they had always felt they could compete at this level, Lafe said they have put themselves in better opportunities to succeed.

“We’ve always had confidence in ourselves that we belong here and can compete. But we hadn’t really done anything that really proved it,” Lafe said. “After the Harris Chain, it felt like we had learned how to win and how to put ourselves in better situations. Throughout the year I feel like it has really shown, and we have had other opportunities to win this year as well.”

As shallow water, target-oriented anglers at heart, the Messers have fished outside of their comfort zone most of the season other than at Norfork, where they were able to flip bushes. That will likely continue at Saginaw Bay, where plenty of big smallmouth roam the vast open waters. There are plenty of opportunities for largemouth too.

“In practice, we got on some good smallmouth fishing,” Lafe said. “But we aren’t really comfortable doing it, and we haven’t been able to figure out how to adjust whenever they leave us. We found some largemouth and could get plenty of bites. We know there is some quality there, and we are hoping for them.”

Both UNC-Charlotte and Kentucky Christian will need high finishes to fend off the rest of the top five. Beau Browning and Jake Peck from Drury University won the Norfork Lake event and sit in third place with 685 points followed by Brooks Anderson and Parker Guy from Emmanuel College in fourth (683) and Tyler Cory and Scott Sledge from the University of Montevallo in fifth (657).

Tune into Bassmaster.com for full coverage of the Strike King Bassmaster College Series at Saginaw Bay presented by Bass Pro Shops. Weigh-ins will begin at 2:30 p.m. at the Independence Boat Launch at the USS Edison Battleship and will be livestreamed on Bassmaster.com.

The tournament is being hosted by the Michigan B.A.S.S. Nation.