Usually, the annual release of the NCAA Division III women's golf championship field is a happy day for Methodist coach Tom Inczauskis.
Not so this year. For the first time in school's history, the Monarchs weren't among the 21 teams to reach nationals, which are May 12-15 at Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida.
"This one's tough," Inczauskis said Monday. "I have not been looking forward to [Monday], because the girls have worked so hard."
Methodist's run of national tournament appearances spanned 29 years, dating back to 1986. The Monarchs have won 25 national titles, including a stretch of 15 in a row from 1998-2012. From 1996 until 1999, DII and DIII had a combined championship, but the two division have held separate championships since 2000.
Inczauskis said Methodist's absence from the field can be attributed to a number of factors, including a change in the selection process, a young Monarchs roster and the development of women's golf on the whole.
"I would just call it a perfect storm," Inczauskis said.
Seventeen of the spots for nationals are considered automatic for conference winners, leaving just two bids for independent schools, such as Methodist, and two at-large bids.
"More conferences have come online in Division III since when I started six years ago, so there's less and less spots each year," Inczauskis said. "Without being in a conference, and not being one of the top four independents in the country, we're left hoping for an at-large bid. And that's against all the conference runners-up."Inczauskis said less than half the schools in the USA South Athletic Conference field a women's golf team, making the conference winner ineligible for an automatic bid.
"We'll have to look at getting into another conference or maybe some of the other teams in our conference will start to offer women's golf," Inczauskis said.
Rita Wiggs, the commissioner of the USA South, said there haven't been enough women coming out of high school who want to play college golf.
"We'd love to have it as a conference sport," Wiggs said, "but half of our schools have to field teams and we're not there yet."
She added that she has "had a conversation" with Brad Bankston, her counterpart of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, about a scenario in which they could create a league and thus be eligible for an NCAA automatic bid. The ODAC is a 14-member league made up of 13 Virginia institutions and Guilford in Greensboro, and about half its schools field women's golf teams, Wiggs said.
The Monarchs' top seven players from last year graduated, and that left behind a young squad.
Methodist is ranked 16th in scoring, but Inczauskis said the sport has developed to the point that the Monarchs' consistent play won't translate into a bid to nationals. He compared it to last season, when the Monarchs had a record-setting year and didn't win the national title.
"It's just not enough," Inczauskis said. "We had one of the best teams in Methodist history last year. We'd won seven out of nine events going in and had set the scoring record for the school. I think that said a lot about the state of Division III golf when we set a 30-year record and didn't win a national championship."
Inczauskis said women's golf is getting younger, with players developing early and elevating the game at every level.
"There are teams that weren't even ranked last year that will be at nationals that have four freshmen going," Inczauskis said.
The Monarchs will graduate their top four players from this year's squad, but Inczauskis said the outlook is positive for the team down the road.
"We're going to be young," Inczauskis said. "But just give us a year or two, and we'll be right back to where we need to be at that high, competitive level."
This article was written by Jaclyn Shambaugh from The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.