May 13, 2010

By Tom Carkeek Special to

MESA, Ariz. - If you were a promising young golfer intent on playing at the collegiate level, you might set your sights on schools in Florida. Maybe Texas.

Probably not Michigan.

But thriving in the Snow Belt is the Grand Valley State women's program. In fact, Rebecca Mailloux's first season as coach yielded a second-place national finish last year.

So Michigan is a hotbed for golf? C'mon.

"Actually, golf is a big deal in Michigan," Mailloux said. "The state has an amazing high school and junior program.

"You can recruit practically your entire team just from Michigan.

Success recruits more players. And the school speaks for itself. It has a very good academic reputation.

"The high schools and juniors are real competitive. That also breeds success."

Mailloux knows all about the big-time competition she faces from southern schools. She migrated to Grand Valley State after four years as head coach at St. Leo, located near Tampa, and a member of the vaunted Sunshine State Conference.

"Golf is golf," she said. "I think it actually can help our players that they get a break of two or three months during the winter. Then when spring comes, they're hungry. Even now we're still peaking."

No doubt Mailloux wishes the Lakers were peaking a bit higher.

They're in sixth place midway through the NCAA Division II Championships, 44 strokes back of runaway leader Nova Southeastern (Fort Lauderdale-Davie, Fla.).

And though a title this year would be next to impossible, given Nova's dominance, the Lakers could duplicate their runner-up finish since they are just 15 shots out of second.

Mailloux acknowledges being a bit disappointed by her team's championship prospects.

"We're not playing like we have all year," she said after the second round. "Our girls are from up north and don't like the (Arizona) heat.

"We're just not clicking as a team. Ashley (Smith) and Sarah (Hoffman) have played well but not outstanding, and we're just not getting the team to come through."

Smith is in eighth place at 9-over through two rounds, and Hoffman is tied for 11th at 11-over.

"We played here over spring break," Mailloux said. "It was the first time we had seen grass this season, and our score was definitely respectable. Now the course is playing differently. Because of the heat and breeze, it's much firmer and harder."

FIGHT TO THE FINISH: With a splendid 3-under 68, Maria Luz Besio of Newberry (S.C) retained the individual lead at the halfway mark.

She carded four birdies. The only blemish was a bogey on the par-4 14th.

"I just kept playing smart," said Besio, who shot even-par in her first round and leads Nova Southeastern's Sandra Changkija by two strokes. "I hit it to the part of the green that I can score from.

"I'm not nervous at all. I'll just keep playing the way I've been playing."

LESSER LIGHTS: Sonoma State (Calif.), competing in the championships for the first time in school history, is in fourth place, just six shots behind second-place Rollins (Winter Park, Fla.).

And Cal State Monterey Bay is seventh, 18 strokes out of second. The Otters represent the first athletic team in school history competing at the national level in any sport.

GOING LOW: Thursday's round yielded four eagles. Changkija notched one on the par-5 15th hole.

Joanna Coe of Rollins, who shot a 1-under 70 and is five shots back in third place, eagled the 492-yard, par-5 18th hole. That followed a birdie at No. 17 for a terrific closing rush.

Jill Preeshl of Upper Iowa matched Coe's feat on the 18th. She shot a 79.

Cicilia Chudivan of Cal State Monterey Bay carded a 2 on the 338-yard, par-4 17th en route to an even-par round that tied her for fourth, seven shots behind.

BAD LUCK: Karina Palmberg of California (Pa.) swerved from a rewarding high to a killer low.

Palmberg recorded an eagle in the first round Wednesday as part of a respectable 7-over 78. But she signed an incorrect scorecard after Thursday's second round and was disqualified from individual competition.

However, she can compete in the third and fourth rounds, and her scores may count in the team competition.