During the month of January, Golfweek will preview the 2014 spring season for each conference. Check out all of the previews here.
Today, we look at Conference USA:
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5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
• Top of the class: Tulane
• Player to watch: Silvia Garces, Tulane. The sophomore is the highest-ranked player on the conference’s highest-ranked team.
• Freshman to watch: Coralia Arias, Florida International. Arias is already a key component of a young Panthers’ lineup.
• Conference championship: April 21-23, Peninsula Golf Club, Gulf Shores, Ala.
• Past champions (since 2009): Tulane (2013), Tulsa (2012), Texas-El Paso (2011), Tulane (2009-10)
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(Golfweek/Sagarin rank in parentheses)
- Tulane (30): Four top 10s in four fall events, including a third-place finish at the Mercedes-Benz Intercollegiate, and the 20th-ranked fall schedule earned the Green Wave a top-30 ranking. Sophomores Silvia Garces and Emily Penttila, Golfweek’s 68th- and 105th-ranked individuals, respectively, lead a squad that had four players with sub-74 scoring averages and three with top-10 finishes during the fall. Junior Gemma Dryburgh and sophomore Madison Opfer give Tulane a very solid top 4.
- East Carolina (47): Four fall events and four top-4 finishes for the Pirates during the fall, including a runner-up finish at the Old Waverly Bulldog Invitational. Sophomore Nicoline Engstroem Skaug led the team in scoring average (73.75) and top 5s (two) during the fall, and the Pirates have enough other solid pieces, including sophomore Frida Gustafsson Spang and junior Katie Kirk, to challenge Tulane for the conference title.
- Texas-San Antonio (62): Finished outside the top 10 at the Mercedes-Benz Intercollegiate and Betsy Rawls Longhorn Invite, but closed the fall with a big T-5 showing at the Alamo Invitational, where the Roadrunners were 15 shots better than conference foe Tulane. Senior Fabiola Arriaga and sophomore Brogan Townend make up one of the best duos in the conference, and are ranked 175th and 216th, respectively, in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings.
- Florida International (69): The Panthers played a top-100 schedule and came away with four finishes of eighth of better, including a third-place showing at its host event, the Pat Bradley Invitational. Sophomores Meghan MacLaren and Sophie Godley, and freshman Coralia Arias combined for four top 10s in the fall, and senior Shelby Coyle also competed in all four tournaments for FIU. The big question this spring, though, is will anyone step up and claim the fifth spot in the lineup.
- Middle Tennessee State (77): The Blue Raiders finished in the top 5 in four of five fall events, and posted three runner-up finishes. Sophomore Avery George notched two top 5s individually, including a victory at the Lady Pirate Intercollegiate, and her 74.8 scoring average is nearly two shots better than her closest teammate.
- Old Dominion (82): The Monarchs posted three straight fifth-place finishes to begin the fall before closing with a runner-up finish at the Fighting Camel Classic. This team is led by three seniors – Kimberley Bradbury, Elizabeth Haycock and Gemma Fuster.
- Tulsa (108): The Golden Hurricane won the UAB Fall Beach Blast to close the fall, but also finished 15th at the Dale McNamara Fall Preview and 18th at the Betsy Rawls Longhorn Invite.
- North Texas (135): The Mean Green placed fourth once and ninth three times, including at the Pat Bradley Invitational, during the fall. McKenzie Ralston was a bright spot as she led the team in scoring average (75.08) and top 5s (two).
- Texas-El Paso (177): The Miners played five fall events and while the schedule was relatively challenging, the results weren’t pretty – four finishes of second to last and one finish of third to last.
- Southern Miss (183): The Golden Eagles closed the fall with their two best finishes – seventh at the Pat Bradley Invitational and fifth at the UAB Fall Beach Bash. Individually, they got an individual victory and five rounds of par or better from Brandi Rodriguez, but very little else.
- Marshall (207): The Thundering Herd bookended 12th- and 13th-place finishes with fifth-place showings, at the Drake Creek and Dayton Fall invitationals, in what was one of the easier fall schedules in the conference.
- Florida Atlantic (217): The Owls had best finish of fall, finishing fourth at the Hatter Classic, but just one individual, Jacqueline Shelly, ranks inside the top 1,100 in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings.
- Alabama-Birmingham (228): While the Blazers’ men’s team in the top-ranked team in Conference USA, the women’s squad is ranked at the bottom, finishing near the bottom of the leaderboard in each of its four fall events.