There is a changing of the guard of sorts in the NCAA Division II South Region.
The old dominant teams like Lynn and Barry are still near the top, but Limestone and Anderson have worked their way into the mix and now are both on their way to the NCAA Division II Championship.
Anderson and Limestone were at the top of the leader board after the second round of the 54 hole qualifying tournament at the Grand Oaks Golf Club in Davie, Florida.
While both teams would have liked to win a Regional title the goal in the last round was to make sure they were in the top five to advance to the NCAA DII National championship next week in Gainesville, Georgia.
Limestone makes the finals for third straight year
Limestone finished in a tie with Lynn for the top spot at the end of regulation play.
The Saints had shot the best round of the tournament in the second round, but Lynn matched their 289 total to move into a tie for the lead by the end of the regulation 54 holes.
“We didn’t play very well in the first round so our second round got us back into it,” said Saints head coach Trey Taylor. “With so many highly ranked teams, we knew it was going to be difficult,” he said.
Limestone was on track for a 298 total in the final round and Lynn, the number 2 ranked team in the country, caught Limestone to force a playoff.
The two teams played the 18th hole again and the total score of all players gave the championship and the trophy to Lynn.
“It would have been nice to bring the trophy back, but we got the same thing as they did (Lynn) we are going to the national championship,” he said.
The Saint’s Ebba Hellman had the individual lead going into the final round, but dropped back into a tie for third place after shooting a 5-over par 76.
Limestone’s Maria Morales helped keep the Saints at the top with a 1-over par 72 to tie Hellman for third place individually.
“Maria has been a quiet, but very steady player for us all year. This was her best 54 holes of golf and we needed it,” said the coach.
Taylor, who is in his first year as the Saint’s head coach now understands what he had been told about the South Region in D II.
“Everyone told me the Region was loaded and the field for the national championship wouldn’t be as strong as the South. I’m really proud of the way our players responded and we all are looking forward to going to the national championship,” said Taylor.
Last year the Saints finished first in the stroke play portion of the championship, but were knocked out in Match Play.
Trojans make first trip to the NCAA DII Finals
Anderson had some nervous moments as the Trojans dropped from the top spot to fourth, but still earned their first ever ticket to the NCAA finals.
“We picked the wrong time to play our worst round of the year,” said Denton Moore, Anderson’s Associate Head Coach. “We were fortunate that our team learned a lesson without having to pay a price for it,” he said.
The Trojans cut it pretty close. The team shot a final round 23 over par for a 896 total. It left Anderson two shots in front of Barry University and St. Leo.
Both had completed their rounds before the Trojans finished their final round.
With a trip to the NCAA championship on the line the Trojans All-American Jessica Rathbone and freshman Kennedy McGaha kept the Trojans in the lead.
McGaha converted a 2 putt par on her last hole to finish at 6-over par 77, but the par took some of the pressure off Rathbone playing her final two holes.
Rathbone converted a four-footer on number 17 for a birdie and on her final hole she scrambled in from the rough to save par and the fourth place finish for the Trojans.
“It really did come down to how Jessica and Kennedy played those last two holes. We made it harder and more stressful than it had to be,” said Moore.
Both teams have a quick turn around as they get ready for the national championship that starts on Tuesday, May 10th.
Anderson will squeeze in graduation for seniors Kerington Lamb and Victoria Hall and try to get in a few practices before leaving for the tournament on Sunday.
“They may have to practice in their cap and gown. We want the team to be ready. Getting to the NCAA tournament for the first time is pretty big considering we really only got the program rolling six years ago. Everyone who has been on the team over the years has helped make this possible,” concluded Moore.
Taylor, who is also the coach of the men’s team, was driving from Florida to Valdosta, GA to be in time for the start of the men’s play in the South/South East Regional.
“I will get home on Saturday and be back on the road on Sunday to Gainesville, it is a nice problem to have,” said Taylor.
Lander’s Stephenson advances to NCAA DII Finales
Lander’s Hannah Stephenson played in the South Regional as an individual entrant and beat some long odds to qualify for the national tournament.
Stephenson had to be among the top-two players from non advancing teams to get to make the finals.
The Bearcat golfer birdied her 17th hole to break out of a tie with two other golfers and secure her spot in next weeks national championship.
The NCAA Division II finals will be played at the Chattahoochie Golf Club in Gainesville, GA starting on Tuesday May 10th.
NCAA South Region Scores from GolfStat https://results.golfstat.com//public/leaderboards/gsnav.cfm?pg=team&tid=24972