South Florida uses rebuilt squad to win Big East
REUNION, Fla. - After five years coaching the South Florida women's team, head coach Marci Kornegay has found the right equation to earn a spot in the NCAA Division I regionals.
Big East Women's Championship: Day 2
Take a look at images from Tuesday's final round at the 2012 Big East Women's Golf Championships at Reunion Resort, just outside of Orlando, Fla.
Big East Women's Championship: Day 1
Take a look at Round 1 images from the Big East Conference Championship at Reunion Resort, just outside of Orlando, Fla.
That equation boiled down to one stroke in Tuesday's final round of the Big East Women's Golf Championship, as the Bulls, ranked No. 51 in the Golfweek/Sagarin college rankings, shot 46-over 910 (298-306-306) to win the championship for the first time. Defending champion Notre Dame, ranked No. 54, finished second.
South Florida, five shots ahead of Notre Dame going into the final round, was able to keep the momentum going by playing smart in the face of less-than-ideal weather conditions at Reunion Resort and Club's Watson Course during the three-day tournament. Rain and wind greeted the players during the first two days, and a much-welcomed appearance of sun didn't occur until Tuesday's final round.
According to Kornegay, the Bulls' success this year essentially is due to the program's rebuilding, which brought new players to the Tampa campus. Four of USF's five players here were transfers, and three of those four finished in the top 10.
The transfer-heavy team has created an interesting dynamic.
"When you get players who've had experience elsewhere, they know that now this is their 'one more shot' to prove themselves," Kornegay said. "Getting them on the same page has not been for lack of effort. But we laid out a clear vision and values, and they've all bought in."
One transfer who has proved to be a valuable asset for the team is sophomore Christina Miller, who finished third among individuals with an 8-over 224 (78-73-73), missing out on a playoff for first place between winner Ashley Armstrong of Notre Dame and Louisville's Emily Haas (both freshmen) by one stroke.
After finishing no higher than 31st as a freshman at Mississippi, Miller, No. 51 in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, has won twice as a sophomore at South Florida (Golfweek Challenge and USF-Waterlefe Invitational) and didn't place outside the top 3 in her four fall tournaments.
"I transferred because I wasn't playing well. Golf's important to me, so I got out of a negative situation and into a positive one," said Miller, who is from Bradenton. "We have a very supportive team, and my swing coach (David Madras) has helped me so much, not just with my swing, but with my confidence."
Miller's confidence is befitting given her work ethic - Kornegay refers to her as a "workhorse."
"She turns into an animal out there," Kornegay said. "She really has an incredibly competitive spirit, which some days can be her worst enemy, but it can also be her best friend. But overall, Christina's very consistent."
It's that tireless attitude that has Miller focused on constant improvement. Upset with her first-round 78, she focused on calming down and putting in solid second and third rounds, which included three birdies during Monday's round, so she could help her team.
"I'm excited about this win for the team. The girls stuck in, and a win's a win," said Miller, who was joined in the top 10 by senior Kelli Pry (T-6) and juniors Shena Yang (T-8) and Amy West (10).
South Florida hasn't competed in the NCAA Championships since 1991, but Kornegay thinks the Bulls have a great chance of advancing to the finals at Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin, Tenn.
"Our talent really stacks up," Kornegay said, "and the only thing that can get in the way is ourselves."