Before the USF women’s golf season started, coach Susan Holt predicted the team would make it past the NCAA Regionals and reach the NCAA Championship field of 24.
Such a prediction was bold, considering the Bulls had reached the Regionals five times and failed to advance since making the Finals a decade ago in 1991. In reaching the final field of 24, the Bulls did more than just meet their coach’s expectations, they met their own goals as well.
“I’m so happy we didn’t just make it there, we advanced,” said sophomore Kelly Martin. “Especially for the seniors because it was their last chance to finally get to the National Finals and we did it.”
The seniors Martin was referring to were Kelly Lagedrost and Jessica Hayes. Along with Martin, sophomore Fany Schaeffer and freshman Jill Crowe were the others to accompany the seniors on the trip to the Championships.
The season definitely did not start out as a success. The Bulls placed ninth out of a field of 12 teams in the Auburn Tiger Derby Invitational.
“It was a huge disappointment, not only for myself, but for the girls as well,” Holt said. “We just did not play very well and I believe that was a turning point in our season.
The Bulls went on to finish fourth in a very tough field of 17 at the next tournament, the Tar Heel Invitational held in Chapel Hill, N.C. The only teams to finish ahead of the Bulls were Duke, Georgia and Tennessee, all of which were ranked in the top 10 in the nation. Lagedrost led the charge, finishing eighth overall individually with a 3-round total of 226 (73-78-75).
From there, the Bulls went on to finish first in the Beacon Woods Invitational where Lagedrost (3), Schaeffer (10), Hayes (11), Martin (T-12) and sophomore Megan Cushman (T-12) all finished in the top 12.
The Bulls continued their consistent play, taking second place out of 12 teams in the Pine Needles Collegiate Tournament which followed. Schaeffer led the team this time, taking the individual title with a 3-round total of 216 (71-73-72).
USF slipped a little, as far as placing goes, in the SunTrust Lady Gator Invitational, taking seventh out of 17 teams, but that did not deter the team’s concentration.
“The team was focused and the girls knew what they needed to do at Conference,” Holt said.
Indeed they did know what they needed to do at the Conference USA meet held at Inverness Country Club in Birmingham, Ala., finishing in second place to Memphis after a consistent 3 rounds and securing the Bulls a trip to the East Regionals in Chapel Hill. Martin missed the individual crown by one stroke and Hayes (5), Lagedrost (7) and Schaeffer (10) all finished amongst the top 10.
At the East Regionals, the Bulls’ consistent play paid off as they were able to hold off their challengers and finish strong. Ranked ninth out of 21 teams, the Bulls’ final round 293 was second only to second-place Georgia’s 292 and propelled the team to fourth place overall (the team had started the day in seventh). The top 8 teams advanced from the three Regionals (East-Central-West) to the NCAA Championships.
Holt was very proud of her players, who she said were both “stunned and shocked” when they finally realized what they had accomplished. At the Championships, the Bulls finished 23rd out of 24 teams. Martin was unable to compete in the final round when her back flared up.
“I was very disappointed at Nationals, but we still enjoyed ourselves and I was very happy for them (seniors Lagedrost and Hayes),” Martin said. “They were such great leaders … I will definitely miss them both.”
Holt had high praise for Lagedrost.
“She’s the best collegiate I’ve ever had, as far as overall performance throughout her career,” said Holt, who has coached eight years at USF. “She holds four records here at USF and is the best we’ve ever had.”
Referring to Hayes, Holt noted her vast improvement since joining the program.
“She was a great addition after transferring from Illinois her freshman year. We were very fortunate to have her,” Holt said. “Over her three years here, she is the most improved golfer I’ve ever coached.”
Holt added that the leadership of the seniors will be missed next season.
“I’m going to definitely miss them. Their impact on and off the course was so important to our program,” Holt said.
Holt also said they both should be able to compete in mini-tours next year, especially if they put their mind into it.
As for next year, Holt did not seem concerned. She believes the torch of leadership from Lagedrost and Hayes will be passed down to juniors-to-be Martin and Schaeffer, the freshman Crowe, as well as two freshman additions (one of whom has already signed).
“I would hate to have us come this far (NCAA Finals) and then fall off,” Holt said. “I am very excited about our team for next year.”