“Demise of the Dynasty?” was ESPN writer Ivan Maisel’s mid-week headline when football juggernauts Florida, Southern California and Texas were each on the verge of losing a third consecutive game in mid-October of 2010.
Only the Gators lost that weekend. But that’s not the point.
One month before, in Gainesville of all places, the Stanford Cardinal were celebrating after halting Penn State volleyball’s record win streak at 109 matches. One month later, the Cardinal’s women’s hoopsters were doing the same after stopping 90 consecutive triumphs for Connecticut.
In March 2011, for the first time in 32 years, the men’s swimming and diving team at Division III Kenyon went to the NCAA Championships and came back without a first-place trophy.
What about Adams State women’s cross country (seven consecutive titles in the mid-2000s), Bloomsburg field hockey (seven in span of eight years), Wisconsin-La Crosse men’s indoor track (eight out of nine), Alaska Fairbanks rifle (nine out of 10) or Georgia women’s gymnastics (five consecutive)? In the past three years, all have been supplanted. Tennessee women’s basketball? The 2012 seniors were the first in school history never to make the Final Four. With Connecticut’s women’s basketball winning streak went its title string as well — consecutive semifinal-round tourney exits have since ensued. And UCLA ensured the Nittany Lions would not win five consecutive women’s volleyball titles with a sweep of PSU in the 2011 championship’s third round.
Yes, some of the most significant team streaks, some of the most dominant dynasties in all of sports have had their celebrated numbers finalized in the past few years. But of course there’d be no story if none still remained.
In short, Methodist women’s golf remains a dominant force.
The Monarchs have hoisted the Division III NCAA championship trophy every year since the competition’s inception in 2000, making it the only crown in NCAA history never to have changed hands (apart from Division III men’s volleyball, which is in its first year of existence). The school located in Fayetteville, N.C., has won 14 consecutive golf championships dating back to 1998 (when Divisions II and III held a combined tournament), the longest active championship streak in NCAA athletics and the third longest all-time. Only the Kenyon men’s (31 consecutive) and women’s (17) swimming and diving programs have had longer streaks.
So the others have ended, but Methodist’s lives on. What’s the secret?
Simple, says third-year head coach Tom Inczauskis: “It’s always about the players. None of the coaches have hit a single shot since we started that streak. The women come to try to keep that streak alive, and they all push each other to do so.”
Whereas Tennessee has had Pat Summitt, Connecticut Geno Auriemma, Kenyon Jim Steen, and Penn State Russ Rose — all icons bound for multiple halls of fame — Methodist has used six different coaches to win its 24 women’s golf titles in the past 26 years (10 of which came when the National Golf Coaches Association sponsored the event), among them Kim Kincer (five titles from 1998-2002) and Vici Pate (7-for-7 from 2003-09). Yet the squad has still seemingly gotten better each season, with the past two teams under Inczauskis each notching a school-record eight tourney victories. And they all know the last one is where it counts.
“We’ve talked about the streak — we know we are and will be a part of history,” Inczauskis said. “It’s that NCAA title we are ultimately gunning for each year.”
When Methodist hits the course for another NCAA championship, the players know they are not playing just for themselves — all former Methodist student-athletes are watching intently, and most future Methodist hopefuls are as well. And with a strong junior varsity team waiting in the wings and at least a pair of in-season tournaments with Division I competition every year, there is plenty of push for the first team to bring home another championship, something they’ve done flawlessly for a decade and a half now.
“There’s always a lot of depth on our squads,” said Inczauskis, who is also on staff with the school’s PGA Golf Management program, one of only 20 or so such programs in the country. “The second team is always pushing the first, and it just makes our team better overall.”
Two of the top three golfers on the 2011-12 team, in fact, were on that JV squad just one season ago. Sophomore Kelsie Carralero (77.5 stroke average), the fifth-rated player in Division III, prepares for her second NCAA championship in 2012, but neither junior Jenny Sullivan (78.5) nor senior Kelsey Magnine (79.2) cracked the starting lineup for the NCAA championship last year. Yet each has stepped in quite nicely this time around, allowing the 2012 squad to improve upon its stroke average from 2011 despite losing three seniors from that championship group — undoubtedly the mark of a great team. It also helps when adversity is tossed aside like a broken tee, as it was when senior Paige Caldwell (torn shoulder muscle) and others on the winning 2011 group played through injuries and still quite handily outdistanced the field. Oh yeah, and Caldwell: she won the individual title.
“When you are the number one team in the country, you have to believe that you are and play like you are,” Inczauskis said. “When we do that, we’re well on our way to where we want to be.”
The Monarchs will indeed carry that No. 1 ranking (ahead of Washington-St. Louis at No. 2) into this year’s NCAA championship, to be held May 8-11 at Zollner Golf Course in Angola, Ind. But although Methodist’s dynasty has deflected a demise thus far, the conditions that led to the fall of the other notable reigns are by no means absent in the NCAA championship this year; the teams are getting closer in ability, scores are getting lower, and frankly, as Inczauskis puts it, all the teams have women that can play “some real solid golf.”
Methodist even entered the 2011 NCAA Championship ranked second behind DePauw, just four years after Methodist won the title by a whopping 88 strokes. All of which makes the continued success of the biggest dynasty in college sports even more extraordinary.
“Division III golf is making its mark,” Inczauskis said. “Teams are breaking 300 [for a tournament] on a regular basis now, and all by student-athletes without the benefit of athletic scholarships. It’s a very exciting time for the sport.”