College Women

Women's spring preview: Sun Belt Conference

Florida International's Shelby Coyle
Florida International's Shelby Coyle ( Courtesy FIU )

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Denver won the past nine Sun Belt Conference before moving to the Western Athletic Conference.

So there’s room for another team to take back the reins.

Florida international won three times in the fall: at the Wolverine Invitational, its own FIU Pat Bradley Invitational and the Rainbow Wahine Invitational.

“The girls played pretty well this fall,” said head coach Joe Vogel.

In all three tournaments the team won, one of the team members took home individual honors. Freshman Meghan MacLaren won two individual titles, at the Wolverine and the FIU event.

“She is very consistent, straight hitter, but the best part of her game is her putting,” Vogel said. “She has a very high golf IQ."

Junior Shelby Coyle won the Rainbow Wahine Invitational to cap off the Panthers' fall season.

“This spring is going to be a big test for us, because the fields are going to be a lot deeper,” Vogel said. “We’re going to have to grow up a bit, which hopefully leads us to our first conference championship.”

UALR won the MSU/Payne Stewart Memorial after having mediocre finishes through the first three tournaments and ended with a third-place finish at the Blue Raider Invitational. Senior Emelie Westrup, of Norway, made up four shots in the final round at the MSU/Payne Stewart Memorial to capture her first career title as a Trojan.

FIU or UALR could win the Sun Belt Conference championship, but other teams have individuals that could perform well, too.

Sofia Bjorkman of Troy finished in the top 10 in all four fall events, and Arkansas State’s Anna Carling placed runner-up at the Drake Creek Invitational. Both are seniors.

There are a lot of young teams and players in the conference, which could set up for an exciting conference championship.

The Sun Belt Conference gets an automatic bid into the NCAA regionals, so the race should be wide open, considering that no other team has won the title in nearly a decade.

• • •

Where it stands now

Top of the class: Florida International

Best player of the fall: Meghan MacLaren, Florida International

• • •

Past champions

2012: Denver

2011: Denver

2010: Denver

2009: Denver

2008: Denver

• • •

Conference capsules

Florida International (No. 56)

Won three times this fall at the Wolverine Invitational, the FIU Pat Bradley Invitational and the Rainbow Wahine Invitational. Freshman Meghan MacLaren won two individual titles, at the Wolverine and FIU’s home tournament. Junior Shelby Coyle won medalist honors at the Rainbow.

Arkansas-Little Rock (No. 85)

The Trojans had middle-of-the-pack finishes until the team won the MSU / Payne Stewart Memorial. Emelie Westrup over came a four-shot deficit heading into the final round to capture her first career title at the MSU / Payne Stewart Memorial.

Middle Tennessee State (No. 95)

The team started the season strong, and ended it even stronger. The Blue Raiders finished second at the Chris Banister Golf Classic and then won its own Blue Raider Invitational. Freshman Avery George finished as the runner-up at their home invitational.

Arkansas State (No. 115)

Finished in second at three of its four tournaments this fall. Freshman Abi Laker won the Marilynn Smith Sunflower Invitational and led the team with a 73.83 scoring average. Anna Carling finished runner-up at the Drake Creek Invitational.

Troy (No. 123)

Consisted of two seniors and five sophomores, the Trojans won the Courtyard Classic as sophomore Taylor McGraw finished as the runner-up in that event. Senior Sofia Bjorkman finished in the top-10 of all four events in the fall.

Louisiana-Monroe (No. 130)

The Warhawks finished in the top-5 of two tournaments this fall at the ULM Fred Marx Invitational and the FedEx Memphis Women’s Intercollegiate. Only one junior, three sophomores and three freshmen make up this team.

South Alabama (No. 162)

Finished third at the Courtyard Classic in Jacksonville, Fla. Sophomore Ingrid Hagen led the team with a scoring average of 77.00 in the fall.

North Texas (No. 164)

Junior Chaslyn Chrismer lead the team with the lowest scoring average for the fall (76.92), but Taylor Kilponen lead the team with the best finish with a T-7 at the Price’s Give Em Five Intercollegiate.

Western Kentucky (No. 184)

Led by sophomore April Butler and freshman Michaela Bordeianu, the Hilltoppers best finish was fifth at the Great Smokes Intercollegiate.

Florida Atlantic (No. 230)

Finished eighth at the Lady Falcon Invitational. Senior Anna Wiklund finished T-15 at the Lady Falcon Invitational and the Hatters Classic.

Conference championship

April 14-17, The Shoals, Muscle Shoals, Ala.

Lance Ringler's prediction

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