Ball St. in mix at Golfweek’s Conference Challenge

Katie Windlan (right) and Ball State coach Katherine Mowat in between shots at Golfweek's Conference Challenge.

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PRIMM, Nev. – If the Ball State women’s golfers had a nickel for every time someone asked where their school is located, they could recoup the $2 senior Kirsty O’Connor lost playing slots in the airport. (She didn’t waste any time.)

That’s the beauty of Golfweek’s Conference Challenge. Schools from conferences that never meet get to walk the desert fairways together by day, and marvel at the wonders of the Vegas Strip by night.

“They really do pass out stripper cards,” said Ball State junior Rachael Pruett, when asked for first-time impressions. Indeed, not an urban myth.

Ball State, by the way, is not located in Ohio (most popular guess). It’s in Muncie, Ind., and David Letterman fans got an earful regarding his alma mater during last year’s terrific football season.

It’s nearly impossible for coach Katherine Mowat to get her Cardinal team into events that feature the likes of Pepperdine and UNLV, their playing partners for the first round at Primm Valley Resort. Ball State finished last season 114th in the Golfweek rankings. Mowat said their immediate goal is to be a top-100 program.

“It’s about time people get to know where Ball State is,” Pruett said.

Known as a “mini IU,” Ball State has an interesting roster twist compared with other Indiana schools: The players are homegrown.

Among the state’s biggest golf schools – Purdue, Notre Dame, Indiana – there’s only one player who calls Indiana home (IU’s Lauren Giesecke, from Kokomo, Ind.).

Ball State is just the opposite. England’s O’Connor is the only player not from Indiana.

Why the exodus for Indiana’s best?

“It’s not financial,” said Mowat, a Canadian who makes a point of recruiting from her back yard. It’s also not from a lack of talent. Earlier this year, Mowat watched several of her players compete at the Indiana PGA Women’s Open and marveled at the number of good college players in the field.

“Think about how many great college teams could come from this field of 40 players,” Mowat said.

Brittany Kelly, the 2006 Indiana Open champion, cited weather as a big reason many players leave. Kelly thought she’d do the same as a junior player, but decided she’d rather be close to her hometown of Fishers and is Mowat’s No. 1 player.

Purdue coach Devon Brouse contends annually for a national championship with a fully-stocked international team. Brouse isn’t shy about his desire to have more Indiana players on his teams, but can’t get the most talented in the state to commit.

Julia Potter of Granger might be the state’s best college player. She left Granger for Missouri three years ago. Milena Savich of Carmel, Ind., is another who left the Hoosier State. She started at Michigan and transferred to Georgia this fall. Ellen Mueller also had a strong junior career and is at Oklahoma.

This week marks a chance for Ball State to show its mid-major moxie. The Cardinals posted five scores in the 70s Sunday and are tied for eighth. Any finish in the top half of the field here would be an admirable effort for Mowat’s team.

In January, the team hopes to introduce South Africa’s Chantelle Hefer to Muncie’s charm. The 20-year-old was scheduled to arrive this fall, but a history-credit mix-up kept her on the other side of the world.

“That was one of the most devastating moments of my recruiting career,” said Mowat, who called Hefer nine days before she was scheduled to fly out to deliver the news.

Hefer hasn’t been to the Midwest, met Mowat or seen snow. But soon enough she’ll know how to “Chirp chirp” on third downs during football games, eat yogurt at Incredibles and find Muncie on a map.

Kelly has two go-to celebrities she uses when asked about Ball State: Letterman and Jim Davis, creator of Garfield. The football season last year gave Ball State plenty of publicity, thanks in part to Letterman.

Football coach Brady Hoke presented the Top Ten list last December while his team was still undefeated. The list – Top Ten Highlights Of The Ball State Cardinals Football Season – ended with this gem: “The drunk 3 a.m. coaching tips from Letterman.”

Mowat would gladly take those calls.

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