College Women

Women's spring preview: Ohio Valley Conference

Southern Illinois Edwardsville's Ashton Blair
Southern Illinois Edwardsville's Ashton Blair ( Courtesy SIUE Athletics )

Friday, February 1, 2013

After sitting out the postseason – arguably the greatest part of any season – for the past three years, Southern Illinois Edwardsville finally is eligible to compete this spring, as a Division I team.

The Cougars made the jump from Division II beginning in the fall of 2008. The previous fall, SIUE finished fifth at the Great Lakes Valley Conference Championship. The last time the Cougars won a conference title was at the 2004 GLVC Championship.

It’s been a long transition for head coach Jennifer Jakel and her squad, but the Cougars already are showing progress at the highest level of the game. SIUE won its first Division I tournament in October of 2011, the Northern Illinois Huskie Classic. The Cougars finished 11 shots ahead of runner-up Loyola-Chicago.

“The experience of being in a position to win and actually closing out the win is an invaluable one,” Jakel said. “The win really built up the team’s confidence and showed them that they can compete at the D-I level.”

It also was a good reminder to keep an eye on the prize, which ultimately is a spot in an NCAA regional, courtesy of the league's automatic qualifier. One way Jakel kept her players focused without a chance to earn that AQ during the past three seasons was by setting benchmarks. She wants her players to maintain the mindset that they can win every time they tee up it.

In preparation for this spring’s OVC Championship, Jakel tried to build more events into SIUE’s competition schedule that pitted the Cougars against conference competition. That included the F&M Bank Austin Peay State Intercollegiate in October. SIUE finished eighth among 10 teams, six of which (not including SIUE) are in the OVC.

“It was a good experience because we got to see firsthand how we measured up against the other teams in the conference,” Jakel said.

Still, regular-season starts can’t produce the hunger the Cougars should have by postseason. It’s been a long time coming.

• • •

Where it stands now

Top of the class: Morehead State

Best player in the fall: Maya Parsons, Jacksonville State

• • •

Past champions

2008: Jacksonville State

2009: Murray State

2010: Murray State

2011: Morehead State

2012: Jacksonville State

• • •

Conference capsules

Morehead State (Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: No. 109)

Fared well this fall, with a win at Western Carolina Great Smokies Intercollegiate and runner-up finishes at the Austin Peay Intercollegiate and Middle Tennessee Blue Raider Invitational. It wasn’t enough to get the Eagles into the top 50 in Golfweek’s rankings, which means Morehead State will depend on the AQ to get to postseason.

Jacksonville State (No. 128)

The Gamecocks ran away with the Austin Peay Invitational, winning by 15 shots. That team needs to show up more often, because Jacksonville State also twice finished next to last. This team will get to see some good competition at the Kiawah Island Intercollegiate in March.

Murray State (No. 141)

Will start the spring with its home event after finishing the top 3 five times during the fall.

Austin Peay (No. 181)

The Govs were a middle-of-the-pack team in the fall. Three different players finished as the low Gov in five fall starts, and all three of those women (Jessica Cathey, Lauren Bond, Tala Mumford) averaged under 80 for the fall. Tabitha Beard is a reliable fourth score.

Belmont (No. 182)

Best fall finish was at the Drake Creek Invitational (third of 11 teams). Janet Steen leads this squad in scoring. The top four players are tight, but then averages drop off a bit after that. The Bruins could benefit from a little more inner-team competition.

Eastern Kentucky (No. 194)

April Emerson – who has dropped her average by two strokes in this, her senior season – is this squad’s go-to player, but she’s not untouchable. Becky Sharpe and Rachel Welker each earned low-Colonel honors for one tournament.

Tennessee Tech (No. 208)

Nothing stands out about the fall season. Katherine Bell is the leading scorer with the only average under 80 (79.8).

Eastern Illinois (No. 224)

Back-to-back events in Florida to start the spring will be good experience for the Panthers. Emily Calhoon had three top-20 finishes in four starts to lead the team.

SIU-Edwardsville (No. 235)

Best finish, fourth of nine, was at its own event, the SIUE DoubleTree Intercollegiate. Spring schedule includes a season-opening trip to Florida for the Valparaiso Spring Invitational. This also marks the first year SIUE women’s golf, which formerly played at the Division II level, will be eligible for postseason.

Tennessee State (No. 259)

A light fall schedule included just three starts. Room to improve in the spring.

Conference championship

April 21-23, Greystone GC, Dickson, Tenn.

Lance Ringler's prediction

Morehead State. With this being the only way to earn a spot in the postseason, a lot is at stake at the OVC Championship. Morehead State head coach, Stephanie Barker, who is former All-American at Oklahoma State, has slowly built the Eagles into a league power. Morehead State finished the fall with four of five starts inside the top-2 and a league-best 44-9 head-to-head won-loss-tie record. readers: We value your input and welcome your comments, but please be respectful in this forum.