Women's spring preview: Atlantic Sun

East Tennessee State Junior Sian Evans.

Women's Rankings »

RankNameSchoolRating
1Alison LeeUCLA  69.96 
2Stephanie MeadowAlabama  70.17 
3Gaby LopezArkansas  70.29 
4Noemi JimenezArizona St  70.31 
5Celine BoutierDuke  70.40 

Women's Team Rankings »

RankNameRatingEvents
1Southern California 70.64  13 
2UCLA 70.83  12 
3Duke 70.89  11 
4Stanford 71.74  13 
5Arizona State 71.75  12 

Editor's note: Over the next month, Golfweek.com will be previewing every conference that has an automatic bid into the NCAA Regionals. For all of the women's conference capsules, click here.

• • •

The East Tennessee State Buccaneers haven’t been at the top of the Atlantic Sun conference since 2008, but if this fall was any indication, 2013 might be their season.

In the five tournaments, the Bucs won the UNCG Starmount Forest tournament, which included setting three program records, and also capped the fall season with a runner-up finish at the Palmetto Intercollegiate.

“The UNCG event was incredible,” said head coach Stefanie Shelton. “It was one of those tournaments were everything we worked on, how to play the course and how to handle ourselves on the course, clicked.”

The Bucs record-setting performance featured the best second-round score (283), best two-round scores (570) and the best three-round score (852). They came away with the victory by a 24-shot margin over Maryland while besting three top-60 teams (No. 26 Campbell, No. 54 Maryland and No. 55 East Carolina according to the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings).

And it’s not just one player doing all the work. From freshman Vivienne Chin to sophomore Gabriella Wahl to three juniors (Larissa Steinfelt, Sian Evans and Lourdes Lopez) to the lone senior Chloe Garner, everyone has contributed to the team’s success. At the UNCG tournament, four players (Evans, Garner, Wahl and Lopez) finished in the top six to bring their first team title back to East Tennessee since 2009. Evans had her first runner-up finish as a Buccaneer at the UNCG tournament.

“After last year’s conference championship, this year we have been motivated and just ready to win,” said Shelton.

Last year they came so close to coming back and winning the title on the final day at Venetian Bay Golf Club hosted by Stetson that they cried not because they lost the conference championship, but because they played so well in the final round. Since the Bucs won their last championship, they haven’t finished worse than T-3.

This year the conference voted to play the championship at a neutral course at Jekyll Island in Georgia, which makes Shelton extremely excited because no one has an advantage on the course and everyone will be seeing it for the first time.

East Tennessee State’s goal is to compete at the conference championship, but to also win and make it to the NCAAs.

“With that win in the fall, we learned how to win, and now we just have to do it at championships,” said Shelton. “We have the momentum (from the fall) and potential to do it this year. It would mean a tremendous amount to us.”

• • •

Where it stands now

Top of the class: East Tennessee State

Best player of the fall: Kaew Preamchuen, Kennesaw State

• • •

Past champions

2008: East Tennessee State

2009: Stetson

2010: Stetson

2011: Stetson

2012: Kennesaw State

• • •

Conference Capsules

East Tennessee State (No. 53)

The Bucs finished the fall with a runner-up finish at the Palmetto Intercollegiate. They also won the UNCG Starmount Forest Tournament. With only one senior on the team, they will be good in the next couple of years, too.

Kennesaw State (No. 79)

The defending Atlantic Sun Conference champ played in four tournaments in the fall. Most finishes were in the middle of the pack, including a seventh at the Old Waverly Bulldog Invitational, the team’s first tournament of the year. Sophomore Kaew Preamchuen of Chachoengsao, Thailand, is No. 92 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, and had the team’s best finish of the fall by finishing T-7 at the Susie Maxwell Berning Classic.

Mercer (No. 106)

Finished no worse than fifth in their four events of the fall, which included a win at the Eat a Peach Collegiate in Jekyll ,Ga. In April, the Bears will be back in Jekyll for the conference championship. Could history repeat itself?

Florida Gulf Coast (No. 142)

Besides its first tournament of the fall, Florida Gulf Coast had a decent fall, including a runner-up finish at the LPGA Xavier Invitational.

Jacksonville (No. 155)

Held the first- and second-round lead at their home tournament until the final round and finished in fifth.

Stetson (No. 158)

Stetson's best fall finish was fourth at the Eat A Peach Invitational. Junior Sammi Smith had an impressive fall season with her victory at the Holiday Inn Express/Hatter Classic and added in another top-10 finish.

North Florida (No. 167)

A very young team with five freshmen and one junior. With time and experience they can turn around their team.

South Carolina Upstate (No. 206)

Finished the fall season with a fourth-place finish, and two players in the top five.

Northern Kentucky (No. 244)

Not the fall they were hoping to have. Senior Rachel Brown is leading the charge for the Vikings in the spring.

Conference championship

Atlantic Sun Championship, April 15-17, Jekyll Island, Jekyll Island, Ga.

Lance Ringler's prediction

Kennesaw State. Two-team race and this will be close, very close, but the Owls will edge East Tennessee State down the stretch to repeat as A-Sun champs.

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