May 15, 2010

By Tom Carkeek, Special to

MESA, Ariz. -- Death. Taxes. And Nova Southeastern.

Those appear to be the inevitabilities facing any challengers that set their sights on the NCAA Division II women's golf championships in the near future.

Nova Southeastern (Fort Lauderdale-Davie, Fla.) waltzed to its second consecutive team title Saturday at Longbow Golf Club, crushing runner-up Rollins (Winter Park, Fla.) by 40 strokes. The Sharks finished at 44-over-par 1,180.

"We played solidly 1 through 5 all week," said coach Kevin Marsh, the national Division II coach of the year for two years running. "Each player made a major contribution.

"But I heard someone say that success isn't measured in one or two years; it's measured over 10 years. Rollins and Florida Southern have been doing it for a decade. That's what we aspire to."

The Sharks showed up at Longbow with a talented, experienced team - and played like it.

They were led by Sandra Changkija, national Division II player of the year for the third consecutive season. Changkija, who tied for second last year, won the individual championship by shooting even-par 284. She was 1 over Saturday.

"It's my biggest thrill in golf; that and being three-time player of the year," said Changkija, who won seven tournaments this season.

"My goal today was to shoot 67, because I had accepted the fact that if Maria (Luz Besio, who entered the day leading) shot even par, then I would tie her."

Changkija said she was unaware that she was actually leading most of the day, due to Besio's struggles.

"Our assistant coach kept telling me, 'Just trust me. Just keep making pars,' " Changkija said. "I actually didn't know I was going to win until the 18th."

Changkija said she plans to attend qualifying school in September. But if she does not finish in the top 30, she'll be back for another run with Nova Southeastern.

"It would be great to make it three in a row," she said.

Marsh called Changkija "by far the hardest worker I've ever seen in collegiate golf. Her focus is so intense, and her results reflect that."

All-American Maria Garcia Austt built on her strong seventh-place finish last year by tying for fourth at 15 over. The senior is the only player who won't be back next year.

"Maria is so talented," Marsh said. "She's so creative on the golf course. She was runner-up as a freshman. We're definitely going to miss her."

Nicole Whitmore, who had finished 14th in 2009, tied for seventh at 18 over. "She has really grown as a player and as a student-athlete," Marsh said. "Her top-10 finish just shows that."

National freshman of the year Abbey Gittings tied for 16th at 23 over. "Abbey had an amazing freshman year," said Marsh. "She was thrown into the fire right away, and she rose to the standard."

And All-American Taylor Collins duplicated last year's tie for 21st, carding a 25 over.

"Taylor took a huge step this year," Marsh said. "She won a Division I tournament and shot 6 under par. She doesn't even realize how good she can be."

The race for second place was as jumbled as Nova Southeastern's victory was foregone. Rollins came in second at 1,220, Florida Southern (Lakeland) third at 1,221 and Tarleton State (Stephenville, Texas) fourth at 1,222.

Nova Southeastern earned its first trip to the nationals in 2008 and finished second, seven strokes behind Sunshine State Conference rival Rollins.