It’s that time of year again, and we can guarantee this conference championship season won’t be without its share of upsets. Charleston Southern and Stetson have already taken care of that.
So far, Charleston Southern owns the most commanding upset, taking the Big South Conference title by 23 shots and blowing pre-tournament favorite Coastal Carolina right out of the water. Senior Olivia Jordan-Higgins led the Charleston Southern charge to a sixth conference title – and a new Big South championship record score of 17-over 881 – even though the team entered the tournament ranked No. 155 in Golfweek’s rankings. For the record, that’s 102 spots behind No. 53 Coastal Carolina, which now will have to hope for an at-large bid into regional action.
“My team played with a lot of heart this week,” Charleston Southern coach Kory Thompson said in an e-mail. “Coastal Carolina is a great team and they have been solid all year so it was a huge win for our team. We have worked hard all year and I think this week it just all came together for us.”
Welcome to the beginning of the women’s golf postseason. Even if no other upsets occur in the remaining 25 conference championships, Charleston Southern and Stetson have already provided plenty of excitement for the women’s game.
In Stetson’s case, it’s looking like conference upsets might just be a specialty. Except head coach Floyd Kerr isn’t so sure he’d use that word. Instead, credit that come-from-behind victory at the Atlantic Sun Championship to depth and the element of surprise.
As if Stetson didn’t make a big enough statement in the final round by jumping four spots up the leaderboard and overcoming a 12-shot deficit for the four-shot win, the team also did it in record-setting fashion. The Hatters’ final-round 2-under 286 broke the team’s existing 18-hole scoring record, as well as the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship scoring record. It was a true team effort, as three of the four scores Stetson counted were even par or better.
“The three people who were ahead of us playing the last groups, I think they just started playing one another and we were just kind of out there and I don’t think they really saw it coming until it was over with,” Kerr explained.
This time next year, Stetson isn’t likely to be overlooked. The Hatters’ conference championship is their second in as many years, and they didn’t come in as the pre-tournament favorite either time. Last year Stetson had the home-course advantage, but this year’s title was won at the Venetian Bay Golf Club in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., a neutral site. Campbell and East Tennessee, pegged as possible Atlantic Sun champions, tied for third.
The Hatters were No. 75 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings going into the tournament, but had not been without success this season. Stetson won its home tournament in November and entered the A-Sun with six top-3 finishes.
“We have kind of felt like all year that we were competitive with all the teams in the country,” Kerr said. “We had a lot of good finishes. … The one yesterday is obviously the one we wanted to get the exemption to the regionals.”
Freshmen Alexandria Buelow and Anna Hancock add depth to this Hatter squad, but it’s not lacking in senior leadership, either. Lauren Darnell – who carded a final-round 3-under 69 – and Danielle Jackson are in their last season at Stetson, and sophomore Lauren Cate also has last year’s postseason in her memory banks.
“This one, we’re all still a little shocked but it’s extra special as a senior,” Darnell said. “… We’re just glad that we could kind of pull off an upset even though we weren’t favored maybe at the beginning.”
Stetson finished 19th at last year’s East Regional, but if the team has proved anything with its Atlantic Sun success, it’s that the Hatters can’t be counted out. Besides the addition of the two very reliable freshmen, Ashley Prange, who is playing on the Duramed Futures Tour, has signed on as an assistant coach, specifically helping the team with workouts. She gets out on the course with players when she can, and the conference championship was just her second trip with the team this spring.
“I think she just adds another perspective to the team,” Darnell said. “She’s been there before.”
The Hatters have shown that they have a penchant for doing the impossible, and the question now is whether they can carry that over into regional play.
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Five questions with Illinois sophomore Hailey Koschmann, who won the Indiana Invitational by one shot:
1. You just won your second tournament in as many months (Koschmann also won the JMU Eagle Landing Invitational in March). What’s working with your game right now?
I think the biggest change that I’ve had lately is my mental game. I’m just trying to focus on that a little bit more. … I’m trying to just take it one shot at a time and not think about future shots.
2. Tell me about the eagle at the 17th in your final round at Indiana.
I hit an OK tee shot, but it was in the left rough so I had about 106 yards and I hit a wedge and I hit it really well and it landed in the hole and then it kind of bounced back out and then it went back in. I think it maybe hit a bump at the bottom. It was really cool, I’ve never holed out from the fairway before.
3. You shot a 69 in the final round of the Indiana Invitational, which tied your low for a college tournament. How does that compare to pre-college?
I shot 66 in my high school state championship my senior year so that was my personal best round and then 69 is my best college career round.
4. You shattered the Illinois High School State tournament record that year. What’s your best memory from that tournament?
I remember starting off really low. I made a really long putt on the first hole, I birdied the first hole and then I eagled the second one, a par 5, I made like a 12-foot putt and at that point I was 3 under. … I got really nervous but then I think getting nervous actually made me play better so I mean I remember almost every shot of that round, I just felt like – when I was done with it – really, really good. My best memory is probably hitting my last putt. On the last green I had like a 2-footer to finish out my second round. Everybody was around the green, my dad was there, my high school golf coach, that was probably the best memory from golf.
5. Your coach, Renee Slone, is the most decorated player in Illinois history. How much do you get to play with her?
I’ve actually never played with her before. She played with us once when we were (practicing) at a golf course last year but I wasn’t there in her group so I’ve never played with her. It would be a great experience to play with her and I hope I get to sometime, she’s a great teacher.
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A look ahead…
What: SEC Women’s Championship
When: April 16-18
Where: NorthRiver Yacht Club, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Why it’s important: Auburn, No. 3 in Golfweek’s rankings and one of the most talked-about college teams lately, will be looking for a title defense here, but the Tigers will likely have to hold off No. 7 Alabama and No. 11 Florida to get it done.
What: ACC Women’s Championship
When: April 16-18
Where: Sedgefield CC, Greensboro, N.C.
Why it’s important: No. 4 Duke has proven this season that it’s a team to always keep an eye on after wins at the NCAA Fall Preview and the Liz Murphey Collegiate. Keep an eye out for Florida State, which just narrowly missed getting a third straight victory last week at the SunTrust Gator Invite. In any event, the Seminoles are on a roll and are capable of doing some damage in North Carolina.