Methodist looks for new beginning at Baytowne

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DESTIN, Fla. – Tom Inczauskis has mixed feelings at the sight of Sandestin Resort’s Baytowne Course. There are the memories of the final-round rally here one calendar year ago that left Methodist with a victory -- one of six on the regular season. But then, there’s the championship that got away.

The NCAA Division III National Championship was played on Baytowne in the spring, and Methodist, with 15 consecutive national titles and the top seed, came in a clear favorite. That streak, however, ended here as Mary-Hardin Baylor and Texas-Tyler fought over a national title that Mary-Hardin Baylor ended up winning by eight shots.

“We have some positive and negative feelings going on out there,” Inczauskis said after his players had had a chance to see the course again.

Methodist has won two of its first three starts so far this season and is ranked No. 1 in Golfstat’s latest head-to-head rankings (from Oct. 9). Still, without that national championship, Inczauskis says Methodist has a sort of underdog status that’s new to them.

“Part of the reason we’re doing well,” he said, “is that there isn’t that pressure.”

Aside from Methodist, No. 2-ranked Washington St. Louis is in the field, as well as No. 5 Texas-Tyler, who produced last year’s individual champion in Laura Lindsey. Whitman (No. 7) and Centre (No. 10) round out representatives from the top 10. There are 10 teams in top 25.

Inczauskis graduated two players from last year’s squad and has a fivesome of seniors in play at Baytowne. Loretta Giovannettone and Kelsie Carralero played were staples in last year’s lineup and twice saw Baytowne. Taylor Dominguez saw it only at Golfweek’s event. Dominguez and Elizabeth Blomgren were alternates for last year’s national-championship team but return as key players for the Monarchs this year. Nucharin Kantapassara rounds out Inczauskis’ team.

The last streak at an end, it may be time to start a new one. Of course, Baytowne won’t provide an early forecast for this year’s national championship -- that tournament will be played at Mission Inn Resort in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla., in the spring -- but it still might provide some closure for the Monarchs.

“I was always fascinated with how it lasted so long,” Inczauskis said of the streak.

Here’s to new beginnings.

• • •

Sandestin’s Raven Course is a major stop on the Division III men’s golf calendar. Among Jim Owen’s Oglethorpe squad, two players have seen this tournament twice before. They also teed it up at last year’s NCAA Chapionship here.

Oglethorpe, ranked No. 20 by Golfstat after one victory in four starts this season, was the top-seeded team at the outset of national-championship week. The Stormy Petrels, however, encountered an unfamiliar wind at Raven. This golf course is set up for a southwest wind, Owen explained, but the field saw the wind blow from the northeast. It was enough to knock the Petrels off balance and leave them outside the 36-hole cutline.

“It puts a premium on driving the golf ball,” Owen said of Raven. Despite last year’s disappointment, Oglethorpe brings good memories back to Sandestin. Oglethorpe has counted a hole-in-one here, multiple eagles and last year, a third-place finish at Golfweek’s event. This year, Owen is just looking for a fourth score to get his team on the right track.

Oglethorpe is among eight teams ranked inside Golfstat’s top 20. LaGrange, in the No. 19 slot, returns as a close runner-up at last year’s event. The Panthers finished one shot behind a St. John’s (Minn.), a team that didn’t return this year.

LaGrange also returns individual champion Cory Howard. Head coach Lee Richter says the junior is built like a 1-iron but with a feisty personality that bodes well for team leadership. The Golfweek event was Howard’s first individual win.

“It sent his confidence through the roof,” Richter said.

It’s part of the reason Richter’s team is more experienced this year despite being younger. Richter is starting three freshmen and a sophomore in addition to Howard. Four players hail from Florida, and LaGrange likes that they have experience on a layout like Raven.

“It sets up pretty well,” he said. “It’s flat, water, plenty of sand and a little breeze.”

LaGrange enters the week off a 14-shot victory at the Oglethorpe Fall Invitational. A year ago, the Panthers finished fifth there.

It made for a good vibe on the eve of the first round.

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