DAYTON, Tenn. -- KJ Queen and Dax Ewart didn’t win any of this year’s four regular-season tournaments on the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Tour presented by Bass Pro.
But their cumulative performance throughout 2019 earned the duo from Tennessee’s Bethel University an even more prestigious honor.
Queen and Ewart were crowned the Bassmaster College Series Team of the Year on Wednesday night during a welcome banquet held at Bryan College for the 118 teams that qualified for the Bassmaster College Series National Championship.
Attention will be on the water of Lake Chickamauga when the championship begins Thursday, but all eyes were on Queen and Ewart on Wednesday. The tandem was lauded for an impressive run through a quartet of fisheries in the 2019 series that challenged anglers’ versatility, focus, and stamina.
Their margin of victory was slim. Queen and Ewart scored 1913.44 points in the system B.A.S.S. used to determine the year’s top college team. West Virginia University’s Nolan Minor and Casey Lanier, who finished fourth in last year’s TOY race, were second this season with a total of 1910.71 points.
The winning team in each of the four regular-season tournaments received 500 points, while every other team in the field received a diminishing number of points based upon where they placed and how many duos were entered in the given event. In addition, teams could score 50 additional points by fishing in their respective state qualifying tournaments.
“We knew it was going to be close, so there was a lot of suspense still,” said Queen, a senior. “We’d been doing calculations all year, trying to figure where we stood.”
Queen and Ewart believed they had a shot at the TOY title before the season began thanks to their home lakes being among the four bodies of water fished on this year’s tour (Queen is from Catawba, N.C. near Lake Norman and Ewart is from Tuscaloosa, Ala. near Smith Lake.)
“That certainly caught our attention, seeing those lakes on the schedule,” Queen said. “But they didn’t fish anything like we expected them to fish.”
“We thought we might get the ‘home lake jinx,’” added Ewart, a sophomore.
But Queen and Ewart were far from hexed.
The Bethel duo placed 16th of 256 teams entered in the season opener on Norman in February and followed with a sixth-place finish of 250 teams competing on Smith a month later. That was the only Top-12 finish Queen and Ewart posted in four Bassmaster college events this year, but it cemented their place among the series leaders at the season’s halfway point.
“At that point, we knew we were in the running (for team of the year,)” Queen said. “So we said ‘Let’s go ahead and make a run at it.’”
Queen and Ewart narrowly missed the cut to 12 at Arkansas’ Bull Shoals Lake in April when they placed 13th of 199 teams, and they capped the regular season with a 21st place finish among the 149 teams fishing on the St. Lawrence River in New York in June. The finish in upstate New York was their lowest of the season, but not enough to keep them from winning TOY honors.
Queen and Ewart won approximately $8,000 in cash and prizes as team points champion, including $2,500 for the Bethel University bass fishing program. They also won for themselves Carhartt rain suits, Abu Garcia rods, and reels, a Yamaha gift package. and a Solix Humminbird GPS unit.
College Series Director Hank Weldon said Queen and Ewart always seem to be near the top of a leaderboard, and the TOY standings prove that.
“When K.J. and Dax walk on the stage, you think consistency,” Weldon said. “They are well-rounded anglers, for sure. The places we went this year, that’s a lot of geographies. To be consistent at each of those fisheries is a true test.
“But you can guarantee that things like our team of the year race make these guys better anglers,” Weldon said. “That competition is making them stronger. Twenty percent of this year’s Elite Series anglers fished in college. It won’t be too long and that number could be 80 or 90 percent. It’s going to be the exception, and not the rule, that the best anglers are going to be the ones that competed in college.”
But first things first, and for Queen and Ewart, that means trying to win a college championship on Lake Chickamauga.
“This is a confidence boost,” Queen said. “We were sweating, not knowing if we would be the Bassmaster Team of the Year. Hopefully, we’ll have another title when the championship is over.”
Rounding out the top five teams in the 2019 TOY race are Brian Linder and Nathan Thompson, Bemidji (Minn.) State University, third, 1823.2 points; Jacob Louis and Nathan Doty, McKendree University (Ill.), fourth, 1818.83 points; and Miller Spivey and Trey Dickert of the University of Montevallo (Ala.), fifth, 1797.96.
This was the second year B.A.S.S. named a Team of the Year. Spencer Lambert and Tyler Craig of the University of Louisiana-Monroe won the inaugural award in 2018.
See the full Team of the Year standings here.