May 13, 2010

By Carl Kotala
Special to

Sidebar: Martin Leaves Mark at Methodist

HOWIE-IN-THE-HILLS, Fla. --- Fifteen minutes before they teed off in Thursday's third round of the NCAA Division III women's golf championships, the Methodist University Monarchs (Fayetteville, NC) got together for a team meeting.

Emotions were running high.

"I'll tell you what, there wasn't a dry eye," Methodist coach Tom Inczauskis said. "Each girl had something positive (to say), and a strategy, an affirmation for her playing partners. It was ... I'll tell you what, I'm crying right now ... it was moving.

"I know a couple of them hit that opening shot with tears in their eyes. They just really wanted to go out there and prove to everybody that they're the best team here."

From those opening shots until Paige Caldwell hit her final putt on the 18th green, the Monarchs dominated play Thursday. Their team total of 315 was the lowest of the day, and the tournament. And what had been just a one-stroke lead at the beginning of the day has ballooned.

The 12-time defending national champions (965) will hold a 20-stroke lead over Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Gustavus Adolphus (both 985) when they hit the tee box for Friday's final round.

"I think it just shows a lot about our team," Caldwell said. "We're very pumped. I mean, we have confidence, but ... we put a lot of hard work in. We practice our butts off. We do the time to get the scores that we want."

Caldwell, who shot a 79 on Thursday, is also in contention for the NCAA individual championship. She and teammate Alana Swain -- who also shot 79 -- are both at +16 for the tournament.

Natalie Matuszak of St. Mary's College (Notre Dame, Ind.) is 14-over for the tournament and will take a two-shot lead into Friday's final day.

Winning an individual championship would be nice -- obviously -- but Caldwell said she's more focused on helping Methodist extend its domination of the team championship to 13 in a row and 23 of the 25 that have been held.

Inczauskis admitted he was a little nervous about how his team would play Thursday after an emotional Wednesday that saw team captain and two-time defending national champion Susan Martin disqualify herself for signing an incorrect scorecard. The disqualification, plus a good day by Wisconsin-Eau Claire, left the Monarchs clinging to that one-shot lead.

After letting the players "decompress" the rest of the day, Inczauskis had a team meeting Wednesday night where the message was simple.

"We just kind of went around as a group (giving) positive thoughts -- how we were going to approach the course and ... that we were still in position to do what we came here to do," Inczauskis said. "It all revolves around (the idea that) we came down here to win both of these titles. And it may not be the way we expected it, but it can still happen."

By the time the players got up and had breakfast Thursday, they didn't want to wait until 1:20 p.m. (EST) to tee off. They wanted to get at it right then.

Because she had no official score from Wednesday, it was Martin who got to tee off first for the Monarchs. And the No. 1 women's golfer in Division III set the tone.

"The players really responded today," Inczauskis said. "It was really exciting to have Susan out in front. She made a lot of pars early, and we just translated that back through the squad. Everyone stepped up today. It was really exciting to be out there."

Martin, who finished with a team-low 78 on Thursday, proved to be quite an inspiration for her teammates throughout the day. Not only did Caldwell and Swain shoot 79s, but the Monarchs also got a tournament-best 79 from Gretchen McLean.

"Every girl wanted to know how (Martin) was doing," Inczauskis said. "She got off to a great start and I'm telling you, they just lit up."

Friday's final round sets up well for the Monarchs, who have been steady as can be throughout the tournament. Barring a complete collapse, they'll be holding another championship trophy at the end of the day.

The individual title where it gets interesting. While Matuszak has a two-shot lead over both Caldwell and Swain, Jessica Urban of Wisconsin-Steven's Point is just three shots back after shooting a 3-over 76 on Thursday. Katie Schenfeld of Gustavus Adolphus (St. Peter, Minn.) is six shots back at +20.

Should Caldwell or Swain win the individual title on Friday, it would give the Monarchs six consecutive individual champions.

"It's about the team," Caldwell said. "Playing well makes the team closer. That's what it's about for me."