No. 42: Baylor men, Ole Miss women
College golf is just a few short weeks away. To get you ready, Asher Wildman is breaking down the top 60 men's and women's teams. Today, it's No. 42 on the board with the Baylor men and Ole Miss women.
2010-11 final ranking: 42
Coach: Greg Priest (ninth year)
Top returnees: Joakim Mikkelsen and Jerry Ruiz
Top newcomers: Freshman Kyle Jones of Snowflake, Ariz., freshman Filippo Zucchetti of Italy, freshman Mikkel Bjerch-Andresen of Norway
Projected starting 5: Joakim Mikkelsen (Sr.), Jerry Ruiz (Jr.), Lorenzo Scotto (Sr.), Niclas Mansson (So.), Ryan O’Rear (Jr.)
Key losses: Payne Gniewek
Key fall tournament: Royal Oaks Intercollegiate
2010-11 recap: Baylor made a 14th consecutive trip to NCAA regionals, but failed to achieve back-to-back NCAA Championship appearances. “It was a disappointment,” coach Greg Priest said. “We had everyone coming back that got us to nationals the year before (but) couldn’t make it happen.”
The Bears posted six top-5 finishes, including victories at the Wyoming Cowboy Classic and Charleston Shootout. At NCAA regionals, Baylor was in the lead with 10 holes to go, but played poorly at the worst time. The Bears dropped all the way to seventh place, where they finished three shots out of a trip to nationals.
Player to watch: Joakim Mikkelsen. “He has been our best player and has had a great summer (quarterfinalist at the British Amateur),” Priest said of the Norwegian. “He is an absolute grinder. He’s small but one of our longest guys off the tee. A weakness of his is his putting, which if he can get that down, he can make it at the next level.”
2011-12 preview: Priest is excited about the upcoming season. “We have an experienced group coming back with a sour taste in their mouths who want to get the job done,” he said.
Having four returning starters will be key for a program that’s often overlooked in the top-heavy Big 12 conference. Quietly, Baylor has become a NCAA postseason regular and is inching closer and closer to becoming a team that regularly qualifies for nationals.
For Baylor to get to Riviera Country Club this year, Priest is placing pressure squarely on the shoulders of his standout senior. “How Joakim goes is how our team goes,” Priest said. “On the final day of regionals last year, he was our non-counter – and that can’t ever happen.”
If Baylor wants to crack the top 30 of the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, it will have to be more consistent. Too many times, the Bears followed a good finish with a disappointing one. The Bears need to put together a few good finishes in a row to be thought of as a top team, not only in the Big 12 but in the country.
Bottom line: With four starters back, there is no reason the Bears shouldn’t make a 15th consecutive trip to regionals. At times, this team shows flashes of greatness; the next step is consistency. With the experience, talent and depth on this year’s roster, the Bears should improve, solidify themselves as a top-30 team and earn an NCAA Championship spot next May.
2010-11 final ranking: 42
Coach: Michele Drinkard (fifth year)
Top returnees: Natalie Gleadall, Haley Millsap, Ashley Lance
Top newcomers: Junior Ericka Schneider (junior-college transfer from Daytona State) and freshman Taelor Rubin of Raleigh, N.C.
Projected starting 5: Natalie Gleadall (Sr.), Haley Millsap (Sr.), Ashley Lance (Sr.), Ericka Schneider (Jr.), Taelor Rubin (Fr.)
Key losses: Jill Brodd
Key fall tournament: SEC/Pac-12 Challenge
2010-11 recap: Mississippi continued to improve in the rankings under the direction of head coach Michele Drinkard. The Rebels made it to the postseason once again, but are still trying to make their first trip to the NCAA Championship. “We’ve been getting better year after year,” Drinkard said. “The program started in 1988, and we’re still trying to get our first trip to nationals.”
The Rebels opened with three consecutive top-5 finishes last fall but struggled in the spring, with only one top 10. Ole Miss finished 11th at the SEC Championship, then ended its season with a 14th-place finish at the NCAA East Regional.
Player to watch: Ericka Schneider. Said Drinkard: “She was not highly recruited coming out of high school. She took two years at junior college to make her game solid. She really compresses the ball well and hits it like a man. She is very creative with her short game as well.”
2011-2012 preview: This might be the Rebels’ best chance to make their first NCAA Championship appearance. Ole Miss has three seniors who have played in every tournament since their freshman year. “This group is very passionate and are ready to run through barriers of success,” Drinkard said. “Nothing will get in this group’s way.”
Some may think too much pressure is on this senior class to get the job done, but one thing Drinkard does well is to create a relaxing environment. The easygoing coach knows how to send a positive message to her team regardless of its performance. “We will always have fun,” Drinkard said. “Win or lose, I want my players to enjoy themselves and have fun with the game of golf.”
Joining Drinkard’s three seniors are talented newcomers Ericka Schneider and Taelor Rubin. Schneider has the game to be the team’s lowest scorer if she can adjust to the Division I level quickly. While at Daytona State College in Florida, she was the No. 2 junior college golfer in the nation. Rubin, a freshman, has worked hard over the past 18 months with instructor Todd Anderson, the 2010 PGA Teacher of the year.
Bottom line: This is the best team Drinkard has had at Ole Miss. The Rebels have come close to nationals the past few years but come up short every time. Expect Schneider to be the difference maker this year for the Rebels and push for the team’s No. 1 spot by the end of the season. If that happens, the Rebels should have a historic season and make it to their first NCAA finals.