College Women

Women's spring preview: SEC

Florida sophomore Camilla Hedberg finished T-2 at the Women's World Amateur Team Championship. She was the low collegiate player at the event.
Florida sophomore Camilla Hedberg finished T-2 at the Women's World Amateur Team Championship. She was the low collegiate player at the event. ( Tracy Wilcox )

Saturday, February 2, 2013

So far this season, Florida has succeeded in delivering a message of dominance. The Gators aren’t the top-ranked team in the country – that honor goes to Washington – but at No. 5 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, they are tops in the SEC, one of the deepest conferences in the nation. On Jan. 28, Florida also proved to be the best team in, well, Florida.

The Gators claimed victory No. 3 on the season at the Florida Challenge, a matchup of some of the top Division I teams in the Sunshine State (Florida, Florida State, Miami, Central Florida and South Florida). Florida finished the 36-hole day at 586, nine shots ahead of Florida State. For the sake of comparison, Florida’s 18-hole team scores of 292 and 294 at Black Diamond Ranch in Lecanto, Fla., are just above the team’s fall average of 289.9.

Head coach Emily Bastel said her players were eager to get back to the course after a winter away from competition.

“Any time you compete, you learn a little bit more about what you need to work on,” she said. “We will use the Florida Challenge to pinpoint some of those things and keep working. I think this event got the girls excited to hit the road again.”

After winning the Cougar Classic and Betsy Rawls Invitational in the fall, Florida will not only have high expectations in the spring but a target on its back. The Gators haven't won the SEC Championship since 2008.

Isabelle Lendl and Camilla Hedberg ended the fall season ranked Nos. 4 and 5, respectively, in Golfweek's rankings. One of those two players finished with at least a share of medalist honors in every Gators start. How long that streak can stay alive is arguably one of the most intriguing storylines in the nation entering the spring season.

Though Bastel expects Lendl and Hedberg to continue to lead the way in the spring, Florida’s effort is a balanced one. The early scouting report from Bastel is that senior Mia Piccio could play a bigger part in the second half of the season.

“Piccio will play a huge role for us,” she said. “She is very talented and due to break out at any time.”

• • •

Where it stands now

Top of the class: Florida

Best player in the fall: Isabelle Lendl, Florida

• • •

Past champions

2008: Florida

2009: Auburn

2010: Alabama

2011: Auburn

2012: Auburn

• • •

Conference capsules

Florida (Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: No. 5)

The results speak for themselves: Two team victories and four individual titles.

Alabama (No. 6)

Nothing explosive about the fall for the Crimson Tide, which was Golfweek’s preseason No. 1 team. Alabama did well to recover from an eighth in its season opener with a second and a T-1.

Arkansas (No. 14)

Three top-5 finishes in strong fields, but must get over the hump and break two-year winless streak.

Vanderbilt (No. 15)

Should be proud of a top-5 finish at the Stanford Intercollegiate. Lauren Stratton has embraced the leadership role left vacant by the graduation of Marina Alex.

Texas AM (No. 18)

The Aggies didn’t get a victory this fall, but contended at the Mercedes-Benz.

Georgia (No. 21)

Senior Emilie Burger overachieved, but can’t carry the whole team on her back. The NCAA Championship is in Georgia’s backyard at the end of the spring – the Bulldogs need to get there as a team.

Kentucky (No. 29)

Won the Old Waverly Bulldog Invitational to get the fall started right. That was where the Wildcats peaked, however. Kentucky certainly has potential, but must turn its season around this spring.

Tennessee (No. 30)

Erica Popson and Sara Monberg must step up in the spring to salvage the season. A good sign: Popson won the Harder Hall Women’s Invitational in the offseason.

Auburn (No. 33)

Lost steam at the end of the fall. The Tigers need more than one player to go low.

LSU (No. 38)

It’s a rebuilding year for the Tigers, and the team improved over its four fall starts.

Ole Miss (No. 39)

Two very solid finishes from the Rebels in the fall: A sixth at the Golfweek Conference Challenge and even better, a T-2 at the Tar Heel. Good things likely in store for Ole Miss in the spring.

South Carolina (No. 49)

For a team loaded with freshmen, it was a fall season all about learning. Upperclassmen fell short of potential.

Missouri (No. 50)

In Missouri’s first year in the SEC, a ranking inside the top 50 is not bad for middle of the season, and if the Tigers maintain it, they’ll likely be in an NCAA Regional. Last year at this time, Missouri was ranked No. 94.

Mississippi State (No. 64)

Ally McDonald is the go-to player on this roster. She is ranked No. 41 individually by Golfweek and was co-medalist at the Las Vegas Collegiate Showdown this fall.

Conference championship

April 19-21, Greystone G&CC, Birmingham, Ala.

Lance Ringler's prediction

Florida. Explosive at top of the lineup and will need 4 and 5 to get better, but the Gators are a confident bunch and could be even better than they looked in the fall. readers: We value your input and welcome your comments, but please be respectful in this forum.