May 18, 2010

By Carl Kotala
Special to

HOWIE-IN-THE-HILLS, Fla. - Jessica Urban posed for a photographer holding her NCAA Division III women's individual golf championship trophy high in her left hand. Her right hand was also extended with her index pointing straight up in the air.

No. 1 indeed.

"I still can't believe it," the Wisconsin-Stevens Point senior said. "It's almost like someone has to pinch me right now."

Starting the day at 17-over, three strokes behind the leader, Urban shot a 4-over 77 on Friday to win medalist honors and the national championship. She was +21 (313) for the 72-hole tournament at the Mission Inn and Resort.

Paige Caldwell of Methodist (Fayetteville, NC) was second at +22 (314) with her teammate Alana Swain and Natalie Matuszak of St. Mary's (Notre Dame, Ind.) finishing in a tie for third at +23 (315).

Friday's final round was thick with drama throughout as one by one, the final groups finished up. At one point, there were four players tied for first place with just a few holes to play.

In fact, Urban was told she was going to be in a playoff with Caldwell, until the final totals were looked at again and she was declared the winner.

"When I was told I was in a playoff, I was freaking out," Urban said. "I thought I had won it, then I was told I didn't win it, and then I found out I won it. It was like ... Oh my goodness, is this really happening?

"... This means a lot. Every year I've wanted to improve. It went from 45th down here (as a freshman) to eighth, to second and this year, I wanted to come down here and win it -- and I did! I can't believe it."

It was that second-place finish at last year's national championship that kept her motivated all season.

"Oh, she wanted it. She wanted it bad," Urban's coach, Melissa Martin said. "She's such a hard worker. She was out there a lot this spring, trying to get ready."

After every class, Urban said she would go to the golf course and play until it was dark. She'd work on her short game. She'd work on the driving range. She'd practice as hard as she could.

Perhaps that's why, when she shot an 81 on the first day of the tournament, she was beside herself after signing her card and leaving the tent. Instead of falling apart, however, she followed up with a 79, 76 and then finally, a 77.

"I knew I would improve," Urban said. "I always seem to improve over the days. But after that first day, it was hard to believe I would come out a champion in the end. I had to just stick with it, hope for the best, play my game and hope it was good enough."

Urban entered the day in fourth place, three shots behind Matuszak, a sophomore, who had led the tournament for each of the first three days.

All that she had worked for all season was still right in front of her.

"After the second day, I knew I was five back, and my dad had said, 'Gain two strokes, and the last day, just do it,'" Urban said. "I gained the two strokes and then coming in today, I was like, 'I can do this. I just need to play my game and whatever happens on the course, just leave it out there. Go for everything.'"

That she did, and in the end, she got to take home the trophy. All that hard work had indeed paid off.

"I think Jess just kept it slow and steady," Martin said. "She was consistent. She improved a little bit every day, and I think that's what it took to win here. You've just got to stay steady, no extreme rounds or anything."

The top 10 finishers Friday received All-American status. In addition to Urban, Caldwell, Swain and Matuszak, that included Stephanie Mingos of Rhodes College (Memphis); Katie Schenfeld of Gustavus Adolphus (St. Peter, Minn.); Emily Bachert of Centre College (Danville, Ky.); Leslie Lee of LeTourneau University (Longview, Tex.); Mary Kate Boyce of St. Mary's; Lizzie Blyth of Allegheny College (Meadville, Pa.) and Kimberly Eaton of Wellesley College (Wellesley, Mass.). Blyth and Eaton tied for 10th place.

As for Urban, her senior season came to a perfect ending. She didn't need anyone to tell her that.

And now that it's over, she's hoping to play more tournaments on the Futures Tour.

"We'll see what the future brings," she said.