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Rick Houston | | May 17, 2014

Houston: Tense at the top

  Louise Manalo became the program’s fifth individual champion with a 72-hole program record score of 287.

CONOVER, N.C. -- As hard as they tried, Louise Manalo’s teammates could not keep her from fidgeting.

She looked tentative, as if the NCAA Division II women’s golf national championship rested on what she did in the next few moments. Manalo bit a finger nail, and a teammate would bring her arm down.

And almost as if it was loaded on a very tight spring, wham, the arm would come right back up. One teammate and then two tried, but it just didn’t seem to be working.

Thing was, the tournament was over. The Fighting Knights had won the team national championship going away, and Manalo was about to accept the trophy recognizing her as the individual champion. It was hers, all hers, and she had nothing whatsoever to worry about.

Except maybe for how she was going to get all that hardware back home to Winter Park, Florida.

Out on the course, Manalo had shown an iron-clad resolve. With several student-athletes from around the country within striking distance of the individual championship going into Saturday’s final day of competition, she and Lynn teammate Jessica Bradley separated themselves from the rest of the pack.

As dominant of Lynn was in team play, it seemed fitting that individual honors would come down to a pair of Fighting Knights. Lynn held slim three-stroke team leads after Wednesday and Thursday’s rounds, and then broke it open with a combined 291 on Saturday.

Manalo shot a 68 Saturday, to Bradley’s 71. Through it all, however, Manalo claimed to be in the dark on who was up and who was down until after she finished play.

“I didn’t even know I was leading,” Manalo said, who lists Brussels, Belgium as her hometown. “Going on 18, I had a feeling. I had a little feeling. I was like, ‘Just finish it.’ I think if I knew, I would’ve messed up the last three holes or something.”

If she was feeling any nervousness on the 18th green, she surely wasn’t showing it.

“I’m happy I made the last putt,” Manalo said. “Last year, I missed it and it haunted me the whole summer. At that point, I was just thinking, ‘I’m just putting with my dad.’ That’s all I thought about, and it worked.”

Manalo and teammates Irene Calvo and Ellen Chambers missed Lynn’s graduation ceremony held Saturday, but will return for a private ceremony on Monday that will be held in conjunction with Lynn’s baseball team that is still in contention for the upcoming DII world series.

Winning a national championship -- or two, in Manalo’s case -- was a decent trade.

“Well worth it,” Manalo said.

Pity Lynn head coach Danny Randolph. If he’d had only one player in contention for the individual championship, there wouldn’t have any doubt whatsoever as to whom he wanted to win. It would’ve been the young woman in a white shirt and blue golf shorts.

Manalo or Bradley. … Bradley or Manalo. As long as it was Lynn, Randolph was going to be good with the outcome.

“Obviously, for Louise to win it as an individual is a huge honor for her,” he said. “She works very hard on her golf game, and it’s something that’s really important to her. So for her to do that, I’m so proud of her.”

Bradley, a native of Bishops Nympton, England and this year’s DII PING Player of the Year, pulled to within just one stroke of her fellow Fighting Knight on the final hole. She appeared completely unperturbed.

“Honestly, whatever happened happened,” Randolph said. “It was great for Jess to make that birdie on 18 to make it a little bit closer. Jess knew she lost by one, but she was really happy for Louise. She knew the most important thing was for us to win as a team.”

And that’s exactly what Lynn -- and Manalo and Bradley -- did. Win as a team.

“I wasn’t thinking about the individual championship, to be honest with you,” Bradley said. “I was more concerned about how the team was doing. I was happy for Louise that she won.”