CONOVER, N.C. -- Win or lose in the NCAA Division II women’s golf national championship here this week, Rollins head coach Julie Garner has a big day planned for Sunday.
Garner and a couple of her players will drive back to Winter Park, Florida, after finishing play on Saturday, and arrive in the wee early morning hours of Sunday. She’ll throw a few more things in her suitcases, and then head to the airport for a 6 a.m. flight and the beginning of a long journey to Namibia, located on the southwest coast of Africa.
The trip is part of a faculty and staff internationalization endowment program at Rollins, designed to give those with teaching responsibilities more of a global perspective. It’ll be her second such trip, after venturing to China in 2009.
“It’s interesting going from being the one in charge of the travel -- feeding them, making sure we have hotels and all that kind of stuff -- to just being a traveler,” Garner, who is in her third stint at the Rollins helm, said. “I’m thrilled. The group that’s going is very diverse, but it’s a terrific group, very intelligent.
“I expect to get a lot out of the relationships that I develop with the other faculty and staff on the trip. That’s one of the most valuable things I learned in China. The other thing I learned is that we live in the greatest country in the world.”
Each person on the trip made a presentation to the rest of the group, and Garner talked about gender-based violence in the country.
“Every time I’d pull stuff up, I’d get a lot of things about gender-based violence,” Garner said. “The women are not second-class citizens, necessarily, but they’re just not as protected in a lot of other cultures as we are here in the U.S. A lot of gender-based violence is not necessarily frowned upon as much as it would be here. It’s one of the slow cultural things to changes that obviously needs to as soon as possible.”
Braving strange new lands is nothing new to Garner or her team. After beginning her collegiate golf career at Auburn as a walk-on, she transferred after her freshman year to Alabama, of all places. Since returning to Rollins in 2000 for her current tour of duty, Garner has led the Tars to top-three finishes in the country in each of the past eight seasons. It’s a streak that includes consecutive national championships in 2003-2006, each of which was won by an average of a whopping 36 strokes.
On the first day of the DII national championship tournament here Wednesday, Rollins wound up second by just three strokes to top-ranked Lynn.
The Rollins roster features players from Switzerland, Japan and Brazil along with the United States. That’s not the only international flavor on the squad, either. Kayla Sciupider has already left for her study-abroad program in Rome, and Rollins’ number-one player Annie Dulman won’t be with the team due to studies that will take her to London.
“We’ll have a big team next year, 12 players,” Garner said. “So it’ll give a couple of younger players more of a chance to play. More importantly that that, it’s going to help those two as people. I’m thrilled for them. They’ll come back with a different level of appreciation for what we have here.”
As hard as it will be to lose Sciupider and Dulman, it’s all part of the Rollins experience.
“One of the reasons I love working at Rollins. They really do value the student-athlete experience, not just how many championships you’ve won. I always tell people we’re not just about hanging championship banners. We’re hanging life-success banners. That’s what we’re trying to focus on.
“I told the girls [Tuesday] night that they made a tough choice coming to an academically rigorous institution, but that’s why I love it here. This is a big part of their experience, but it’s just part of it. I don’t know that a whole lot of coaches at an elite level would allow two of their top-five players to study abroad, but it’s not fair for them not to be able to just because they’re good golfers.”