May 13, 2010

By Tom Carkeek
Special to

Sidebar: Grand Valley State Growing Golf in Michigan

MESA, Ariz. - If Secretariat had been a women's golf team, he would have been Nova Southeastern.

The Sharks' performance through two rounds of the NCAA Division II women's golf championships is conjuring up comparisons with the immortal thoroughbred's 31-length victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

Halfway through the event at Longbow Golf Club, the Sharks have forged a gargantuan 29-stroke lead. That leaves second-place Rollins (Winter Park, Fla.) closer to ninth place than first.

After a mediocre first-day score of 14 over par, the Sharks (Fort Lauderdale-Davie, Fla.) blistered the Arizona desert layout for a startling 1-over 285 Thursday.

Still, coach Kevin Marsh is taking nothing for granted.

"We're halfway there, but I know Rollins can shoot under par tomorrow," he said. "And you know the pins will be tougher the last
two days.

"It's really all about our five girls and for them to play to their potential. We just need to keep doing what we're doing."

Highlights were everywhere.

Sandra Changkija, the nation's top-ranked Division II player, tossed up a 4-under-par 67 that featured an eagle on the 495-yard, par-5 15th hole. The low round of the tournament gave her a 1-under total of 141 that left her two shots behind leader Maria Luz Besio of Newberry College (S.C.), who shot a 68 for a midpoint tally of 3-under 139.

Less heralded teammate Taylor Collins was nearly as good as Changkija. She rebounded from an opening-day 83 to fire a 2-under 69. Collins was 4 under through 15 but bogeyed two of her final three holes and is tied for ninth. Collins said she could have gone even

"I was hitting all the greens but lipping out a bunch of putts," she said. "We're trying to win by a lot. We set our goals high."

Maria Garcia Austt shot a 3-over 74 and is in sixth place. Nicole Whitmore carded a 4-over 75 and is seventh.

To illustrate the depth of Nova Southeastern's lineup, Abbey Gittings is tied for 13th in the 72-player field, yet as the fifth-best score on her team, her result is not even counted in the team chase.

Of course, even with a seemingly insurmountable lead, leave it to a coach to find reasons to worry.

"Our round was great, but it could have been better," Marsh said. "We left a lot of shots out there.
"The pace of play, I think, bothered us a little. We had to wait on some of the tees, and we lost some of our rhythm. So we need to figure out how to play a little slower.

"There's so much trouble on this course that with rulings and tough shots, things can start to bog down."

Another potential area of concern, Marsh said, is that Longbow "is playing shorter than I thought it would. It's more of a second-shot course.

"You really have to be precise on your second shot. You can hit a good drive, but then the greens are hard, so that second shot is important. There's no guarantee that a sand wedge will get you close."

Changkija played a brilliant round. She started auspiciously with a birdie on the first hole, dropped to 2 under with another birdie at No. 5 and went 3 under with another birdie at the 10th before stumbling with bogeys at Nos. 11 and 13.

But she quickly redeemed herself with her eagle 3 at the 15th hole. After bogeying the par-3 16th, she closed in a rush with birdies at Nos. 17 and 18.

Unsurprisingly, Changkija is totally focused.

"My goal is to play professional golf," she said.

And her team?

"We're ready to win big," Changkija said. "It means a lot."