Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024

How this midwestern college lost in a D-II women’s regional but rebounded to win a national championship

By admin Jun7,2024


Simple. Solid. Calm. Tough.

Those are the four words that UIndy women’s golf abides by as a program. The program needed that mindset en route to winning the 2024 Division II women’s national championship.

UIndy entered the national tournament — played at Orange County National Golf Center in Orlando, Fla. — coming off a disappointing second-place finish in the East Regional. After three days of regional play at Prairie View Golf Club in Carmel, UIndy was tied with Findlay at a total stroke count of 905. The tie was broken with all five golfers for UIndy and Findlay each playing a playoff hole on May 8. After all 10 golfers played the hole, UIndy lost by one stroke, and Findlay won the regional championship.

“It was really good to get that experience,” freshman Caroline Whallon said. “Obviously, that playoff hole did not end how any of us wanted. It really sucked to lose regionals, but I learned a lot from playing in a playoff hole with your teammates, with the other team, and it’s a completely different setting.”

After falling short in the regional, UIndy didn’t enter the national tournament as a favorite. The tournament format was as follows: Eighteen teams made the five-day competition. After three rounds of stroke play by a team’s selected five golfers, the teams with the eight lowest scores advanced to match play. The eight-team match play portion of the tournament was decided by whichever team won the most individual matches against another team.

The Greyhounds were tied for eighth after the first round of stroke play. They were in a three-way tie for eighth late in the third round of stroke play, and all five of their golfers had at least one birdie on the back nine. Led by junior Anci Dy’s three birdies, UIndy finished tied for seventh and moved on to match play.

“The mental toughness that these girls showed all year is probably the biggest reason we won,” coach Brent Nicoson said. “They handle adversity, they handled mentally tough situations, they handled physically tough situations, and they never panicked.”

UIndy’s quarterfinal matchup with West Texas A&M ended in a 2-2-1 tie. Because of Dy’s five-stroke win and freshman Jess Haines’ four-stroke win, UIndy’s cumulative score was four strokes lower than West Texas A&M’s, so the Greyhounds advanced to the semifinals.

In the semifinal against Dallas Baptist, three UIndy golfers birdied the first hole, and there was no looking back from there. UIndy won four of the five matches (each by at least four strokes) to dethrone the reigning national champs.

UIndy faced St. Mary’s (Texas) for the national championship on May 25. This round ended in another 2-2-1 tie. UIndy’s total score was five strokes lower than St. Mary’s, but unlike the quarterfinal round, the championship was decided on the course with another sudden-death playoff.

“We were like, ‘We’ve been here before, we know what to expect,’” Nicoson said. “… There wasn’t any panic. Our mantra all week was stay calm and stay tough, and we just kept saying that to each other.”

UIndy freshman Ava Ray led her championship matchup for 14 of the first 15 holes. But Ray was +2 on the final three holes while her opponent — Rebecca Reed of St. Mary’s — was -1. Reed ended up winning the individual match by a stroke.

Ray and her teammates had about 30 minutes to regroup before playing the 18th hole of the Panther Lake course at Orange County National for the seventh time that week.

“Going into the playoff hole, I had a very set mindset on the fact that I was going to birdie and I was going to be one of the reasons my team ended up winning,” Ray said.

Ray stepped up to the par-5 18th hole and did just that. The Franklin grad’s birdie set the tone for the rest of her teammates, as UIndy went -1 as a collective in the playoff to win the national championship by a stroke.

“I truly don’t feel like there was that much of a nervous energy,” Ray claims. “I felt like it was more excitement and readiness.”

The Greyhounds experienced close call after close call, all without their No. 2 golfer Alice Webb, who missed the final five weeks of the season with a hand injury to win the national championship.

This marked UIndy’s third national championship (the other two in 2015 and ’18). Each title has come under Nicoson, who just completed his 13th year at the helm for UIndy’s women’s team.

“There’s no better feeling than holding that trophy at the end,” said Nicoson, the head coach of UIndy’s men’s and women’s golf teams. “There’s only one school in the country that can say that, and out of the last nine years, we’ve been fortunate enough to do that three times. That’s something I don’t take for granted.”

While Nicoson experienced national championships before, the rest of his team hadn’t. Elation overtook the Greyhounds once Dy sunk the title-clinching putt.

“We all kind of just hugged each other and we were all crying happy tears and it was such an unreal feeling,” Whallon said. “And I cannot explain ever how it felt but it was probably the best thing to experience, with those girls especially. It was a very awesome, special moment I’ll definitely hold forever.”

Nicoson’s team graduates just one senior, Matilda Cederholm, off its nine-golfer roster. If all goes right, the Greyhounds will be in contention for another national championship in 2025.

“There’s no reason we can’t make another run,” Nicoson said. “I told them at the end of the season, even though we won the national championship, we have to look at each other — including the coaches — and say this summer we’re all getting better.”

For now, UIndy can appreciate that its simple, solid, calm and tough attitude won it the 2024 national championship.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek

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