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Rick Houston | | May 13, 2014

Houston: Lynn looks to repeat as national champions

CONOVER, N.C. -- If Lynn's roster here this week looks similar to the one that hoisted the NCAA Division II women’s golf national championship trophy last year in Daytona Beach, there’s a pretty good reason for that.

All five women – Ellen Chambers, Louise Manalo, Jessica Bradley, Samantha Smolen and Irene Calvo – are back and are looking to give the Fighting Knights their second title in a row at Rock Barn Golf and Spa. They’ve got a good shot at it, too. Not only are they ranked first in the nation, they’re just a week removed from claiming the South Super Regional 2 tournament for the second year in a row.

The Blue and White are experienced in general, and they’ve also got experience on this course as well. Lynn won the DII Fall Preview tournament at the same course on Oct. 29, one of 10 victories the team scored this season.

All those factors are important, of course, but the fact that head coach Daniel Randolph’s squad remained intact is a decided strength for Lynn. At least three of the five are ranked amongst the top 10 players in the nation, but each has made a habit of contributing on those rare occasions when others have had a tough round.

“The key to our success is that we have five very good, solid players,” Randolph, the women’s golf head coach at Lynn since 2011, said. “It could be anyone at any time. There’s always that somebody that steps up. Our depth just really helps us. There’s calmness about that with myself and my assistant, and also a calmness amongst the team that we have this ability and we can do these things.”

Along with Barry and Rollins, Lynn is one of three schools from the Sunshine State Conference to make it to the national championship tournament this week. The teams know each other, and they’re rivals for supremacy of golf-mad Florida.

Now they vie for the sport’s ultimate prize, a DII national championship. Toss in a trio of teams from each of the three remaining regions in the country, and the 2014 DII women’s golf crown truly is up for grabs.

“Anyone who’s made it this far has done a great job to get to this point,” Randolph said. “You’re going to always have a number of teams that can compete for a national championship.”

Once a team reaches the peak as Lynn did in 2013, one of two things can happen the following season. Many a defending champion has experienced a great letdown, for a great many reasons. Success goes to their heads, and players aren’t as hungry. They maybe don’t work quite as hard. They expect to win again just because they won last year.

Or a team can keep right on winning. So far, that’s exactly what the Fighting Knights have done.

“Our job was to try and get better every day, every tournament,” Randolph continued. “We were going to put them in positions to be successful, to travel a little bit, to put ourselves in position also at times to be uncomfortable with some different things.

“That’s really what we tried to do, was just try and stay focused day by day, round by round, tournament by tournament. It’s just such a long season, especially the spring season, that you could really get ahead of yourself. We tried not to do that.”

Being in position to win it all for a second consecutive season is an accomplishment in and of itself for Randolph and Lynn’s seasoned team. It’s the culmination of a year of hard work, all those practice rounds, all those tournaments from Las Vegas to here in North Carolina and all over Florida.

Just 72 more holes. That’s all. Just 72 more holes, and the Fighting Knights can lay claim to a second straight NCAA DII national championship and the third in school history. What will it take? What does Lynn do well?

Asked what his team does best, Randolph thought for a few seconds before answering.

“We compete really well,” he concluded. “When it’s time to be in a tournament, that’s when we’re at our best and probably one of the keys to our success this year.”

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