May 14, 2010

By Carl Kotala, Special to NCAA.com

HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS, Fla. -- Alana Swain had been waiting her entire college career for a moment just like this one.

Gretchen McLean, well, she's scheduled to have surgery to repair a torn ACL in her right knee on Tuesday.

And there they were Friday, standing on the 18th green at the Mission Inn Resort alongside Methodist University (Fayetteville, NC) teammates Susan Martin, Paige Caldwell, Kelsey Magnine and first-year coach Tom Inczauskis - holding up another trophy.

Despite a rough start that saw their 20-stroke lead nearly evaporate, the Monarchs captured their 13th NCAA Division III women's golf championship Friday. It is the 13th title in a row for the school, the 23rd out of a possible 25.

The Monarchs shot a final round 317 Friday to finish at 1,282 (+114) for the 72-hole tournament. Gustavus Adolphus (Saint Peter, Minn.) was second at 1,301 (+133) and Wisconsin-Eau Claire was third at 1,307 (+139). St. Mary's (Notre Dame, Ind.) was fourth at 1,343 (+175).

It was a special day for all the Monarchs, but for each in their own way.

Swain, a senior, was making her first appearance at the nationals. Not only did she win her first championship, but she also finished tied for third at +23 (315) to earn All-American honors. Caldwell also earned All-American status with a +22 (314) that left her in second place overall.

"It's definitely surreal," Swain said. "It's something you work toward and think about all the time. Just being out here and being able to play the way I did was ... awesome, a fantastic experience."

McLean, meanwhile, played the entire tournament with a large brace on her right leg after tearing her ACL three weeks ago while hitting out of a hazard.

"It's what you do," she said. "If you can play, you play. We're Methodist. We come out here to kick some butt. I didn't want to not be a part of that. ... I've lived with a bag of ice on my leg, which I think is probably the best thing I could have done.

"But to be out here and to win a national championship ... there's nothing better."

Though they won the tournament by 19 strokes, there were some tense moments for Methodist on Friday. With double bogeys dotting a few Monarch scorecards, and Gustavus Adolphus starting off on a hot streak, Methodist's 20-stroke lead was down to just three with 12 more holes to play.

"I think I was one of the only ones on the team that knew we had lost almost our entire lead in six holes," Swain said. "It pushed me. I wasn't hitting the ball well, and my team really inspires me. When Gretchen made two birdies, I knew we were going to turn it around."

McLean had back-to-back birdies on Nos. 7 and 8. Magnine birdied No. 9. Martin did the same on Nos. 10 and 12 and then McLean birdied No. 12 as well. And just like that, the Monarchs were on their way.

"We hit about six birdies in four holes and all of a sudden, it just turned around. We just started playing much, better," Inczauskis said. "... It says a ton about the team and their character. They buckled down. They knew what was ahead of them."

Martin, who saw her chances at a third consecutive individual championship end on Wednesday when she was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard, played her final round of golf for Methodist on Friday. She leaves as only the sixth women's golfer to win two NCAA individual titles -- the fifth to do it back-to-back.

"It's been great," she said. "Especially this year. There was a close call in the second round. For us to pull it out was just amazing. Even though I couldn't get an individual one, it's still great to get another one with the team, our 13th in a row. Lucky No. 13, huh?"

With the title secured, the Monarchs could start looking forward to the fun part -- the celebration. And just because Inczauskis is their coach, it didn't mean his players were going to let him get off easy.

"We have a lot of traditions for our rookies and we all see coach as a rookie -- this is his first championship," McClean said.

Among those traditions -- rookies have to take care of the championship trophy and bring it home. If the van should stop anywhere along the way, they have to carry the trophy with them. And Friday night, at the team party, the rookies (Swain, Magnine and Inczauskis) have to sing, "We Are the Champions" before everyone jumps in the pool at the team hotel.

"We're really excited to hear his singing voice tonight," McLean grinned.

Methodist's 13th consecutive championship may have had a lot more drama than in years past when they've come in and simply blown the competition away. But now that it's over, who is Inczauskis to break tradition?

"Whatever the girls want," he chuckled. "They've certainly earned it. It's just been an amazing ride."