May 12, 2010

By Carl Kotala, Special to NCAA.com

HOWIE-IN-THE-HILLS, Fla. --
The Blugolds of Wisconsin-Eau Claire have been waiting for a moment just like this.

"Our whole team has worked so hard," senior captain Torie Ives said. "I think this was a time we could just come out and play and finally show what we've got."

With a team score of 28-over (320) in Wednesday's second round of the NCAA Division III women's golf championships, the Blugolds not only bettered their first-day round by 11 strokes, they also put themselves firmly in contention for the national title.

Wisconsin-Eau Claire will begin Thursday's play just one stroke behind 12-time defending national champion Methodist (Fayetteville, NC), which was 41-over for the day at the Mission Inn Resort. Gustavus Adolphus (Saint Peter, Minn.) is 13 shots back.

"The girls got off to a good start and they just kept building on that," Blugolds coach John Means said. "It was fun to watch. There were a lot of birdies out there. And anytime you make a birdie on any of these holes on this golf course, it's a bonus.

"It's a great venue for a national championship. The best team will win here ... forever. If they were to host this tournament for the next 30 years, you'd always have the best team come out of here."

Methodist, which has won 22 of the 24 women's national titles, had an unfortunate setback on Wednesday when Susan Martin -- its No. 1 player, and two-time defending national champion -- was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.

Monarchs coach Tom Inczauskis said both Martin and her playing partner thought she had a six on the 10th hole Wednesday. Martin signed her scorecard, thinking she had shot a 78, which would have given her a chance at a third consecutive individual title.

However, 10 minutes later -- as the team was making lunch plans -- the notion of a scoring discrepancy came up. And after going over the hole, shot-by-shot, it was determined Martin actually had a seven on the hole. The Monarchs went to the NCAA rules committee, and Martin was disqualified for the day.

"We're behind her 100 percent," Inczauskis said. "It could have happened to any single one of us."

Within 30 minutes of the news breaking, Inczauskis was getting text messages from all over the country lauding Martin and the Methodist program for its integrity in self-reporting the error. Martin will be eligible Thursday and while the senior won't have a chance to extend her personal record, she does have a chance to help the Monarchs extend their national championship winning streak to 13.

"We're just going to take it as a two-day event," Inczauskis said. "We're playing the top 20 teams in the country. We're excited for Susan to have the opportunity to play with us. We need her to win. She knows it. She's been a part of every single event that I've coached.

"We all need her and we're going to rally around her and we're going to try to bring this national title home and keep this streak going. ... The girls are fired up. They can't wait to get back out there tomorrow. We just want to know who we're playing with."

Wisconsin-Eau Claire, meanwhile, will be looking to keep things close. The Blugolds got solid play Wednesday from Catherine Wagner and Lauren Gault. Wagner's 77 on Thursday was nine strokes better than her first-round, while Gault shot an 80, which was five shots better than her Wednesday total. Katie Maurer has been the team's low scorer with a two-day total of 160.

Though some teams can be intimidated playing a program with a dominating tradition like Methodist has, Means believes that psychology can have just the opposite effect.

"It gives the other teams and the other players something they can shoot for.," he said. "We know we have to play our absolute best to be able to be in contention. When we got here, our goal was to be within striking distance with nine holes to play on the final day. This golf course ... it's going to lay out that way, that the last nine holes are going to mean everything."

Means pointed to the O'Brien National Championship tournament held in Notre Dame this past fall. Though the Blugolds finished second to Methodist in that event, they were just two shots behind.

"(It was) huge," Ives said. "They've always been seen as the unstoppable, or the invincible and I think that was probably one of the first times ever in the Division III program that they were kind of looked at as beatable. And of course, everyone wants to be the one to beat the giant.

"... It's very awesome to be in this spot, right there with two days left. But I guess, for me, I've always seen it as a reality to be able to do that -- especially after the fall."