Its top player over the past month struggled throughout Monday's opening round of the Sun Belt Conference golf championships, and Louisiana still stands in fourth place and is only seven shots out of the lead.

The Ragin' Cajuns, boosted by the even-par score of Brett Ashmore, carded a team total of 297 in Monday's first of three rounds at the Bluewater Bay Resort. Defending champion North Texas is in first place after the opening round with a two-over 290 score, with New Mexico State and South Alabama are tied for second at 292.

Trailing the Cajuns are Middle Tennessee at 301, Arkansas-Little Rock at 302, Western Kentucky at 306, Denver at 308 and Arkansas State and New Orleans at 312.

Ashmore posted a 38-34--72 Monday over the tight 6,866-yard Bluewater Bay layout and got plenty of support from teammates Tobias Winberg (38-36--74), Steven Pena (37-38--75) and Doron Mommsen (39-37--76) as the Cajuns' counting scores in the opening round.

Craig Trahan, the team's top finisher in the Cajuns' last three tournament and holder of the team's best stroke average (74.08) this year, struggled in the final nine holes and finished at 41-37--78.

"We know that Craig will come back and shoot better than that in the next two rounds," said Cajun coach Bob Bass. "If we can keep getting consistent scores from everybody else, we can be right in the thick of this before it's over."

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Dan McDonald