College Women

Women's preview: Big East Conference

South Florida's Christina Miller
South Florida's Christina Miller ( Courtesy of University of South Florida )

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Last year, Christina Miller fought for the fifth spot on the Ole Miss squad. Upon returning home to South Florida and joining the Bulls roster, Miller became a different player.

For the powerful junior, the key was finding more balance between golf and the other aspects of her life. Head coach Marci Kornegay isn’t sure she’s ever seen someone diagnose that problem so quickly, make a life change and find immediate success. Miller won her first start with the Bulls at the Golfweek Program Challenge, and won another title at the USF Waterlefe Invite.

“She’s not on the golf course eight hours a day like she was at Ole Miss,” Kornegay said. “She really breaks up her time, it’s more of a quality practice. She’ll spend an hour, two hours of really good practice and then she’s done.”

South Florida benefits from something like a magnetic force that attracts local players back to the Tampa Bay area even after they’ve ventured away and played for other teams. Miller was one of three transfers to return south this fall. It left Kornegay unsure what the start of the season would bring.

“Our team dynamic changed drastically when you bring in four really solid players that had made an impact at their prior school, they just wanted to get closer to their hometowns,” Kornegay said.

Amy West, a transfer from Daytona State College (the third to finish two years at Daytona and play for Kornegay), also found an immediate spot in the lineup. Southern Mississippi’s Kelsey Gibson and Stetson’s Anna Hancock complete the core of transfers.

South Florida ended the season with back-to-back wins at the Waterlefe and the Lady Paladin Invitational. But the ultimate indicator of how much this team has changed is that Shena Yang, a Bulls standout who qualified for NCAA regionals as an individual each of the last two years, wasn’t even in the lineup at the Paladin. She was challenged for her starting spot all fall, which surprised Kornegay.

“That’s the optimism behind fall golf,” Kornegay said. “... I know what their level of play is like.”

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Top of the class: Notre Dame

Best player in the fall: Christina Miller

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Past champions

2007: Louisville

2008: Notre Dame

2009: Louisville

2010: Louisville

2011: Notre Dame

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Conference capsules

Louisville (Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: No. 49)

Solid, if unspectacular, play out of the Cardinals this fall that included two top 5s. Swede Anna-Karin Ljungstrom, a perennial top-10 finisher, continues to be a leader.

Notre Dame (No. 52)

Aside from a runner-up at the Indiana Invitational, failed to crack the top 9 this fall -- a much different start than last year. A roster of consistent players, just missing a spark plug.

South Florida (No. 66)

Ended the fall with two victories, including one in a loaded field at the Lady Paladin Classic. South Florida never has won the Big East Conference title, but is so talented this year it might not even need that AQ to make regionals.

Cincinnati (No. 123)

Broke a two-year winless streak with a victory at the UD Invitational. Andrea Malek paces this team.

Georgetown (No. 153)

Bright spot of the season was a T-3 in the final tournament of the fall. Could signal big things to come.

Rutgers (No. 157)

Three top-3 finishes in its first four starts, but Rutgers didn’t stack up well in larger fields at Princeton, Rainbow Wahine. Freshman Kortnie Maxoutopoulis was a welcome addition, maintaining a 74.3 scoring average int he fall.

St. John's (No. 169)

Finished in the top 5 in all four fall starts, but all small events. The Kiawah Island Intercollegiate will be a good test to start the spring.

Seton Hall (No. 176)

Runner-up at the Lehigh Invitational to end the fall. Of interest: sophomore Hannah Basalone also won that event to become the first individual winner in program history.

Conference championship

April 22-24, Reunion Resort, Orlando, Fla.

Lance Ringler's prediction

South Florida. The winner of this championship might not be decided until the back nine on the final day. Louisville and Notre Dame have been at the top of the class in Big East women's golf, but South Florida is going to challenge them and maybe even pass them in the near future. The Bulls are a team that is going to get better this spring and with the event being played in Orlando, the Bulls may have a bit of a edge playing on familiar turf.

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Complete coverage

Wondering how your favorite conference is shaping up headed into the spring season? Who is our favorite to pick up the automatic qualifier? Check out our conference-by-conference break down with our complete coverage page here.

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