Lynn returns to Daytona to start D-2 title defense

Lynn head coach Danny Randolph guides Louise Manalo through a shot during the 2013 NCAA Division II Women's National Championship.

Lynn head coach Danny Randolph guides Louise Manalo through a shot during the 2013 NCAA Division II Women's National Championship.

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The last time Irene Calvo played LPGA International’s Legends Course is a blur. That late-spring afternoon ended with tears, embraces and, most importantly, a national title.

Those memories are fresh this weekend as Calvo and her Lynn University (an NCAA Division II school in Boca Raton, Fla.) teammates return to Daytona Beach, Fla., to start a title-defense season. Lynn will play in the eight-team Lady Falcon Invitational on Sept. 21-22. Championship rings nestled on their fingers and a banner hanging from the rafters of Lynn’s sports arena, the chapter on last year’s national title has closed. It was the second in women’s program history.

“Finally the dream became reality,” Calvo said of her ring. Now it’s time to turn the page and tee it up again at LPGA International.

Lynn won two regular-season events at LPGA last spring, which bodes well for the season opener. As Calvo said, the Knights have two things in their favor: confidence and an eye for the course.

Lynn returns all five players from that championship squad, as well as chaser Estefania Buritica. Improved iron play means Buritica may challenge even harder for a spot on the traveling squad. That’s a good problem for head coach Danny Randolph to have.

“This time last year, we said we could have a chance (at the national title),” Calvo said. Now, Lynn is just focused on playing its best golf each time out. Randolph scheduled the team to compete in two Division I-dominant tournaments in the spring – at the University of Cincinnati and Bucknell. A national championship makes it easier to secure spots in those events.

Calvo maintains that each of her teammates has gotten stronger over the summer. It’s almost an entirely international squad in Boca Raton, with starters hailing from Australia, Belgium and England. Calvo is from Spain.

“We don’t have family here so most of the time we spend (the holidays) with our teammates,” Calvo said. “It’s the kind of people you rely on.”

Lynn has a similarly close relationship with the competition. The top five teams in the NCAA Division II coaches’ poll (Lynn, Nova Southeastern, Rollins, Barry and Florida Southern) are in the Sunshine State Conference. Lynn drew attention to itself last spring by beating four-time defending national champions Nova Southeastern at the NCAA South Regional. Still, Lynn enters this season with the biggest target on its back in recent history.

“I always felt like we were still the hunters,” Randolph said of last spring’s postseason. “Nova had done so much over the whole season.”

Lynn won’t meet Nova in competition until both teams play the Guy Harvey Invitational – in Nova’s backyard – on Oct. 7-8. So much respect exists between the two teams that it’s hard to use the word rivalry. As Randolph notes, it’s nice to have access to the competition.

“Because of that, it allows us to compete and play at a higher level at every event,” he said. “It prepares us to be much better.”

Call it a compelling storyline.

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