CONOVER, N.C. -- An NCAA national championship in any sport is special.It means a team has reached the pinnacle to become the best of the best, the last one standing when the smoke clears. For some, those kinds of heights come once in a lifetime and that’s it. One and done, and it’s back maybe not to mediocrity but certainly to trying desperately to get back to the top.
A second consecutive title proves that the first one wasn’t a just a dream, and that’s precisely what the Fighting Knights accomplished here this week at the Rock Barn Golf & Spa in the NCAA Division II women’s golf national championship tournament. After edging their way to the title last year by just three strokes, head coach Danny Randolph’s squad completely trounced the completion this time around.
The final margin? A whopping 29 strokes, and that was after leading by 13 going into Saturday’s final round.
Moments after accepting his second national championship trophy in as many years, Randolph let out a huge sigh of relief. It had been that kind of year, one in which Lynn went undefeated against DII opponents.
“I’m just so proud of them -- the work they that they put in and the way they’ve been able to believe in themselves and each other, to know how good we could be,” Randolph said. “Obviously, we were pretty dominant this year so it’s just great to end it with a dominant performance.”
It took a strong second nine holes to give Lynn a three-stroke lead against conference rival Barry on the first day of competition, and the second day ended with the very same difference in place. Friday, that all changed when the Fighting Knights padded their advantage by a full 10 strokes.
“The key point to this whole thing was our back nine in the first round kept us in the lead,” Randolph said. “We played [holes] 10-18 first, and we did not play well. We turned it around on our back nine the first day.
“Then [Friday], it was just the back nine. I think we were one over or something on the back nine [Friday], and that was the big separator. We all knew that, because the back nine played tougher all week.”
After jumping out to the relatively comfortable lead following Friday’s play, Lynn wasn’t about to give it up Saturday. Louise Manalo and Jessica Bradley paced the Fighting Knights, breaking themselves out of a tight pack coming into the day to finish one-two in individual play.
“We really turned it on when we had to,” Randolph continued. “I think that’s the biggest quality this team has. When it’s the biggest moments and they have to perform, they do. That was no more evident than today.”
Bradley was named the DII PING Player of the Year by the Women’s Golf Coach Association during a banquet held on Thursday, while teammate Samantha Smolen wound up with a first-team All-America credit. Randolph also scored honors as the Eaton Golf Pride WGCA Coach of the Year.
As big a night as that was for Lynn, it was an even bigger day for the team come Saturday. This was it, what the five golfers and two coaches here on site this week had been after all season. When all was said and done, they took every conceivable photograph imaginable on the 18th green.
The finish line.
From standard group shots with the national championship trophy, to selfies, to the five student-athletes holding Randolph horizontally, to standing back to back, to individuals, to photobombs, to. … whatever. More power to ‘em. The moment was theirs, and they’d earned it.
At some point -- Tuesday maybe, Randolph said with a tired smile -- focus will shift to next season and going for a three-peat. If there’s pressure in that, the coach is fine with it. Performing well with those kinds of expectations is what got Lynn to this point.
“I think if you want to be great at anything, there’s going to be pressure,” Randolph said. “So I never have backed away from that, and our team isn’t. Our program isn’t. I think we’ve really turned the corner with that.”
So … bring on 2014-15 season. Lynn’s ready.