College Women

Women's spring preview: Conference USA

SMU's Melanie White
SMU's Melanie White ( Courtesy of SMU Athletics )

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

SMU hasn’t won a Conference USA title since joining the conference in 2006, and it will only have one more chance to do so.

In the fall of 2013, SMU is making a move, and it’s not a little one for the university. It will join the Big East Conference.

Head coach Jeanne Sutherland says the move won’t affect how she plans the team's fall and spring schedules. Her goal is to create one of the top 10 schedules in the country.

“All it does is that it changes one tournament a year,” said Sutherland, referring to the conference championship. “It’ll be some of the same teams from Conference USA and some new teams.”

Houston, Memphis and Central Florida also will be part of the Big East Conference by the spring of 2014, while East Carolina and Tulane will join the following year.

“Golf probably has the lowest amount of impact (on a conference change) because it all comes down to one tournament,” added Sutherland.

The closest SMU has come to winning a conference title was in 2006, the year it joined Conference USA. The Mustangs finished as runner-up to East Carolina. Still, the margin of victory was in the double digits.

“It’d be nice to finally win one (a Conference USA title with SMU),” said Sutherland.

It seems the Mustangs are heading in the right direction for that. In the fall, they won the Chip-N Club Invite and the Johnie Imes. Freshman Alexandra Rossi and senior Melanie White both won medalist honors in each of these events.

“We’ve put together one or two solid rounds (at tournaments), and now we just need three,” Sutherland said. “We have nine players on our roster, and all nine of them can actually play the game of golf.”

The team has the balance and depth necessary to make a run at the conference title. It would be SMU’s first and last Conference USA crown.

• • •

Where it stands now

Top of the class: Tulane

Best player of the fall: Gemma Dryburgh, Tulane

• • •

Past champions

2012: Tulsa

2011: Texas El Paso

2010: Tulane

2009: Tulane

2008: Tulsa

• • •

Conference Capsules

Tulane (No. 27)

A good start to the fall season at the Old Waverly Bulldog Invitational as the team finished in second, although it led after the first round. Sophomore Gemma Dryburgh, No. 61 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, captured her first collegiate individual title and set a school record for the lowest 54-hole total in Tulane history.

SMU (No. 35)

The Mustangs won two tournaments in the fall: the Chip-N Club Invite and the Johnie Imes. Freshman Alexandra Rossi won medalist honors in her first collegiate event. It was the team’s second consecutive win at the Chip-N Club Invite. At the Johnie Imes, senior Melanie While won medalist honors by breaking the tournament record by four strokes.

UCF (No. 51)

Tough first three tournaments, but the Knights really showed how they could play at the season-ending Las Vegas Collegiate Showdown. The Knights didn’t finish better than 12th until Las Vegas, where they finished second.

East Carolina (No. 55)

Best finish was at the UNCG Starmount Fall Invite, where the team was third. Freshman Frida Gustafsson Spang of Sweden earned medalist honors while setting a new 54-hole school record. The Pirates roster is young (four freshmen, three sophomores and three juniors), and just needs time and experience.

Tulsa (No. 66)

The defending Conference USA champs got off to a rocky start in the spring. The Hurricanes' best finish was in their fourth and final tournament of the fall at the Betsy Rawls Invitational. Senior Shu-Yin Liu is ranked No. 86 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings.

Old Dominion (No. 71)

Talk about domination. The Lady Monarchs finished no worse than third in five fall tournaments. They won the LPGA International Xavier Invite, finished runner-up at the Tignanelli Towson Invitatiaonl and the Fighting Camel Fall Classic and third at the Nittany Lion Invitational and Lady Pirate Intercollegiate. Junior Elizabeth Haycock won individual medalist honors at the Tignanelli Towson Invitational. Haycock finished in the top 10 in all five tournaments.

Southern Miss (No. 90)

Won the Fred Marx Invitational and the UAB Fall Beach Bash and tied for fifth at the Old Waverly Invitational, the Lady Pirate Invitational and Blue Raider Invitational. Brandi Rodriguez (Fred Marx Invitational) and Juliana Herrera (UAB Fall Beach Bash) each had runner-up finishes in the fall season.

Memphis (No. 132)

Came on strong toward the end of the season, posting its best finish at its own FedEx Memphis Women’s Intercollegiate (third). Finished right in the middle of the pack at the season-ending Rainbow Wahine Invitational, a 12-team event. In those two tournaments, Alex Alang finished sixth and third, respectively.

UTEP (No. 154)

The 2011 Conference USA champions played in six events this fall. The best finish (T-7) was at the Price’s “Give ‘Em Five” Intercollegiate. Freshman Maria Velasco led the team with a 21st-place finish.

Marshall (No. 187)

Finished fourth at the Cardinal Classic while Korakot Simsiriwong captured the individual title. The Thundering Herd was in second after Day 1 of the tournament, one back of the lead, but fell after a tough second round.

UAB (No. 189)

A third-place finish at its own UAB Fall Beach Blast was the best of the fall. Sophomore Jamie Ritter made a hole-in-one during the final round. Sophomore Margaret Yeh finished as the top player for the Blazers in two of three tournaments.

Conference championship

April 22-24, Peninsula Golf Club, Gulf Shores, Ala.

Lance Ringler's prediction

SMU. Don’t be surprised to see as many as five teams - ECU, Tulsa, UCF, SMU and Tulane – all challenge for the top spot in Conference USA, but look for SMU to continue to climb this spring. The Mustangs have four players ranked inside the top 200 at the winter break. readers: We value your input and welcome your comments, but please be respectful in this forum.