April 29, 2010

By Michael Rosengart
Special to NCAA.com

YOU'D BETTER BELLE-VE IT: After freshman standout Martyna Mierzwa transferred to Division I Elon University over the winter, No. 8 Saint Mary's College struggled to re-find its stride early on this spring. But the Belles broke through just in time these past two weeks to capture their second straight Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship and a trip to the national championship at Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla. next month.

As reported last week, SMC trailed No. 10 Olivet College by five strokes following the first of three rounds for the MIAA playoffs. But a trip to Blackthorn Golf Club in South Bend, Ind. proved to be just what the doctor ordered for the Belles who, led by junior Mary Kate Boyce's 2 over 74, combined for a 311. Sophomore Natalie Matuszak (76) and junior Rosie O'Connor (77) also provided sub-80 rounds at Blackthorn where in three rounds over the past two years Saint Mary's has shot an average of 321.

Olivet turned in a 344 during that Second Round and saw their narrow advantage turn into a 28-stroke deficit. Sophomore Lauren Campbell continued her hot spring with a 77, but the Comets other three counters all posted scores worse than Saint Mary's fourth counting number.

Campbell also recorded the lone sub-80 score, with another 77, at University of Notre Dame's Warren Golf Course in the Third Round to help the Comets (328) give the Belles (348) a run for their money, but the margin was too steep. Ultimately, Saint Mary's three-round total of 992 bested Olivet by eight strokes.

No. 16 Hope College also only trailed Olivet by eight strokes after the First Round, but suffered a Second Round 357. They finished in third with a 1030.

SCHREINE ON: Schreiner University (342-335, 676), in just its second year with a women's golf program, clinched its first American Southwest Conference championship with a four-stroke victory over University of Texas at Tyler (345-335, 680) at the Apple Rock Course at Horse Shoe Bay Resort. The Mountaineers also booked a trip to nationals.

The Mountaineers trailed University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (335-355, 690) by seven strokes going into the Final Round, but the team never lost focus despite playing with the other leaders and being able to observe them firsthand. Sophomore Sarah Stillwell, who wound up finishing second overall with a career-best 77 in the Second Round, said "we couldn't worry about what other teams doing. We just had to concentrate on ourselves and we hung in well."

The conference title was also the university's first since 2000. Word had spread on campus of the triumph before the team returned home and a welcoming committee of students and supporters greeted the team van.

"Things hadn't really sunken in yet until we got back to campus and then that was just such a great moment," said Stillwell. "It's one that I think we'll remember and cherish for the rest of our lives."

Head coach Ron Macosko, who along with his wife was named ASC Coach of the Year, noted that nationals are likely to be a "stumbling block" for the Mountaineers, but emphasized the bigger picture saying, "it's a great opportunity for these players to see where we stack up. This is where we want and it's another step forward. . . so we're excited for the chance."

UMHB finished in third ahead of McMurry University (344-348, 692). LeTourneau University (352-346, 698) took fifth, but junior Leslie Lee (80-77, 157) became the first back-to-back winner in conference history.

THEY'RE GRRRREAT: No. 11 Southwestern University entered the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference championship having won three years running. No. 5 DePauw University and No. 15 Centre College had both won their past three straight tournaments. Fighting wet conditions and a difficult Robert Trent Jones, Sr. design at Stone Mountain Resort, only one of those three teams could prevail; and in the end it was DePauw who kept their April unblemished and earned a trip to nationals.

DePauw suffered its worst team round in 90 holes during the Opening Round with a 344, but still trailed Centre by only three strokes while Southwestern sat between the two with a 343. But the Tigers shaved 11 off their First Round number and managed to tie up Centre at 677 with the Pirates still only six strokes off the pace.

In the end, DePauw just barely managed to set themselves ahead of the pack with a Final Round 337 compared to Centre's 342 and Southwestern's 338. Over 216 holes, the final margin between first and third wound up being a meager seven strokes.

Junior Stephanie Mingos from fourth-place Rhodes College (349-356-345,1050) claimed medalist honors with a 236. Southwestern senior Kristen Davenport came in second with a 242--it was her seventh consecutive top-10 finish. Centre sophomore Emily Bachert grabbed third just one stroke back of Davenport although it was her first time this season without posting a sub-80 round. DePauw junior Natalie Gough (81-83-85, 249) and freshman Camila Romero (82-84-84-250) rounded out those receiving First Team All-SCAC honors.

Notable among the second teamers were DePauw sophomore Taylor Beaty (93-81-83, 257) and Centre senior Katie McKenna (92-82-84, 258) who were in were in 22nd and 19th respectively after the Opening Round. Both made comebacks that were instrumental to their teams' performances.

WHIT-WORTH THE WAIT: After consistently stumbling under the pressure of the Northwest Conference spotlight, Whitworth University finally managed to pull out a reward as they upset red-hot No. 6 George Fox University for a share of the Northwest Conference title and for the Northwest Conference's bid to the national championship.

The NWC conference championship and the automatic qualifier are decided by virtue of a fall and spring classic and a spring championship. Points are awarded based upon how a team places in each event with points doubled at the championship held this past weekend.

Whitworth relinquished leads of eight and 10 strokes to GFU at the fall and spring classics respectively. This time though, the Pirate lead was just two after firing a First Round 337. George Fox, again, fared better on Day Two with a 321, but finally Whitworth managed to hang on with a 322 for a one-stroke victory.

The result was a tie in points between George Fox and Whitworth. Conference rules designate that the teams are co-champions, but that Whitworth would take the NWC's bid for the national championship by virtue of winning the final event. Making it even sweeter was that Whitworth had been on the short end of the stick when the same thing happened last year between it and University of Puget Sound.

Whitworth freshman Emily Guthrie (80-79, 159) also claimed the individual title when she edged out Puget Sound junior Sarah Bicker with a birdie on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff. Bruin juniors Brianna Nap (83-77, 160) and Mandy Cameron (85-81, 166) and freshman Kelsey Morrison (84-81, 165) earned All-NWC honors in the losing effort.

MILBOURN MANIA: Junior Hayley Milbourn from No. 4 Amherst College (308-318, 626) not only helped her team to a two-stroke win over in-state rival No. 9 Williams College (314-314, 328) at the Williams Spring Invitational, she took home medalist honors herself with an ace and a playoff win against No. 24 Wellesley College (327-316, 643) junior Kimberly Eaton (79-72, 151).

While her team posted it's lowest score of the year, Milbourn sat tied for sixth following a First Round 78. But she came out hot on Sunday and posted a 2 over 73 highlighted by a hole-in-one on the 14th hole. But Eaton, after a First Day 79, had still fared one better than her and the two went to a playoff where Milbourn needed only one hole to win her fourth title of the year and the 12th of her career.

It was also Amherst's fourth straight win and it's sixth of the year which sets a new season wins mark for the Lord Jeffs. No. 13 St. Lawrence University (319-328, 647), despite one of it's best efforts of the spring, managed only fourth place.

GUSTIES HOLD OFF UWEC. . .AGAIN: No. 2 Gustavus Adolphus College has developed something of an antagonistic relationship with No. 3 University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire as the Golden Gusties (326-313, 639) beat the Blugolds (322-325, 647) for the second straight week at the Carleton Invitational.

Over the past two wins Gustavus has averaged 314.75. Both teams qualified for nationals in the fall, but the Gusties have set themselves ahead as more likely to represent "the field" against 12-time defending champion Methodist University.

Sophomore Taylor Drenttel medaled for the second time in the past three tournaments although her 9 over 153 total was actually her worst 36-hole score of the spring. Freshman Catherine Wagner (79-80, 159) posted the best score for UWEC.

St. Olaf College (333-325, 658) took third ahead of No. 22 Carleton College (332-333, 665), University of Saint Thomas (353-332, 685), No. 17 Wartburg College (344-346, 690), No. 19 College of Saint Benedict (340-352, 692), and six others.

The Blugolds will get one more shot to exact revenge on the Golden Gusties this weekend in their own invitational.