Familiarity helps MSU contend at Central District
PARRISH, Fla. – It was a familiar kind of day at River Wilderness Golf Club for Michigan State. The host team has been coming south in early spring to host the event for the past 14 seasons, which is nearly as long as head coach Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll has guided the program.
Maybe that’s why the Spartans always seem to play well at the Central District Invitational – familiarity. The last time Michigan State finished outside the top 5 here was in 2006. In senior Caroline Powers’ three previous visits, the best finish team finish has been fourth.
“All the girls really like this course,” said Powers, No. 13 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings. There are generally a lot of birdies available, Powers explained, but they were harder to get on Monday in a brisk wind and with hole locations tucked around the edges of River Wilderness’ small greens.
Slobodnik-Stoll tried to convince her players to aim for the middle of the green and keep the ball as low to the ground as possible – it’s early in the season, afterall.
“Right now, the putting is easier than the fancy chip shot,” she said of watching her team revive their collective short games. Her Spartans trail Vanderbilt by two shots.
At 1-under 143 for the day, Powers holds a share of the lead with Vanderbilt’s Lauren Stratton and Augusta State’s Natalie Wille. Powers’ teammate Allyssa Ferrell added a 1-over 145 total for a share of fifth individually.
Slobodnik-Stoll likes expects to have multiple players in contention entering the final round.
“That’s what they expect of themselves, too,” she said. “I think that’s part of what coaching is about is just allowing your players to know and help them understand what they’re really capable of.”
And then there’s the familiarity factor. River Wildnerness is a course on which Slobodnik-Stoll said her players feel comfortable. It’s a far cry from last week’s Northrop Grumman venue, where Michigan State finished 15th of 16 teams. Palos Verdes (Calif.) Golf Club featured so much undulation that it was a taxing walk just for 18 holes. Powers simply calls Central District’s backdrop “friendlier.” For proof, consider that the Spartans were 14 over after 36 holes on Monday, but 34 over at the 36-hole mark in California.
“It’s a lot more scoreable,” Slobodnik-Stoll said of River Wilderness. “...It just feels like home.”
The Central District is one of the few women’s college events that features a 36-hole opening day. It was delayed 45 minutes by frost, and players trickled off the course against a hazy sunset.
The cold weather seemed fitting for a tournament that Slobodnik-Stoll rescued 14 years ago after previous host South Florida took its event to Waterlefe Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla. Slobodnik-Stoll, who competed in this tournament while on the Michigan State roster, had just started coaching when that happened, and knew how much the host families looked forward to the event (her old host family still houses her team). When Michigan State took over as host, it became a spring opener for centrally located teams (hence the tournament name), but has since expanded to include top southern schools.
Vanderbilt is among those teams. The longest day of the year is now in the books for the Commodores, and it even produced a lead. Vanderbilt cut 10 shots off its first-round team score in Round 2, and part of that credit goes to fitness work in the offseason.
“They worked really hard in the gym,” head coach Greg Allen said. “... I felt like they would hang in there for the final 18 and they really played well. I think they could keep playing if we had some more daylight.”