Feb. 7, 2014
Cullowhee, N.C. - The Western Carolina women's golf team opens the spring portion of their 2013-14 schedule this weekend, traveling to the UCF Challenge, hosted by Central Florida. The tournament is being held at the par-72, 6,349-yard Eagle Creek Golf Club.
The tournament gets underway Sun., Feb. 9 at 9:00 am. In addition to the 26th-ranked Knights, the highly competitive field includes No. 21 Kentucky, No. 22 Iowa State and No. 45 Wisconsin. The 19-team field also includes in-state foes Campbell and East Carolina, as well as East Tennessee State, Florida International, Georgia State, GRU Augusta, Iowa State, Kennesaw State, Miami (Fla.), Minnesota, New Mexico, SMU, South Florida, Texas State and Tulane.
"Typically we would not start our spring season this early, but an invitation to the UCF challenge was just too great of an opportunity to pass up," said WCU head coach Mallory Hetzel. "With so many top ranked teams in the field, it is arguable the best regular season event in our program history."
Western Carolina's scoring five will include sophomores Taylor Allison, Kristin Swindell, Kim Mitchell and Mariah Hopkins, with freshman Olivia Landino. Allison paced the Catamounts in the fall with two Top 10's and a 74.21 stroke average which ranked fourth in the Southern Conference. Swindell was right behind her with a 74.93 stroke average, tied for the seventh-best in the league through the fall semester. Allison paced the team in scoring in three events with Swindell leading the scoring in two others.
Landino (76.29) ranked 15th, Mitchell (76.43) 17th and Hopkins (76.93) was 21st in scoring with stroke averages through the five fall events.
All told, the Catamounts are riding the momentum of four-consecutive, top five team finishes from the fall including three-straight fourth-place showings. WCU placed sixth as a team in the season-opening tournament at the Golfweek Program Challenge before winning the 15th-annual Great Smokies Intercollegiate the squad hosted at the Waynesville Inn, Golf Resort & Spa.
"We spent a lot of time in the offseason evaluating our play from the fall," said Hetzel. "I was most proud of the fact that at one point or another, we were in contention at every event and played in the final group a number of times. This is a mark of a team on the cusp of greatness. We decided that the difference between fourth and first is minimizing our mistakes and doing a better job of staying within ourselves. Great players and teams let the rounds come to them and that is exactly what we are going to do this spring."
Looking beyond the season-opening event in Orlando, the Catamounts are scheduled to return to the Sunshine State a month later during the university's spring break. WCU will play in the Univ. of North Florida Invitational (March 10-11) at the Jacksonville Golf & Country Club as well as the JMU Eagle Landing Invitational (March 13-16) at the Eagle Landing Country Club on the same trip.
"Playing two events in Jacksonville over our spring break cuts down on missed class time. Both UNF and JMU have assembled competitive fields on challenging golf courses. We will improve a lot during this trip and leave with a great understanding of what we need to do to get even better," said Hetzel.
The Catamounts' spring slate also includes two tournaments at the Moss Creek Golf Club with the Low Country Intercollegiate (March 23-24) and the Southern Conference Championship (April 13-15), as well as the Mimosa Hills Intercollegiate (March 31 - April 1) at the Mimosa Hills Country Club in Morganton, N.C., in the final tune-up before the conference championship.
WCU looks to defend its team title at the Low Country Intercollegiate, hosted by Wofford in Hilton Head Island, S.C. Hopkins finished third as WCU put two amongst the top five individual finishers in a four-stroke team first-place finish at last year's tournament. It is also the third-consecutive year that the Catamounts will play in the Mimosa Hills Intercollegiate, hosted by Appalachian State. WCU finished fifth in the event a year ago after winning top honors during the 2011-12 season.
"I feel we've got a good chance and I expect us to come out on top again and build momentum heading in to the Southern Conference Championship which is held at the same venue on a different course. Mimosa Hills is a special place for Catamount golf, and we always appreciate the opportunity to play there. I hope to see a lot of Catamounts out cheering on the team at this tournament."
Hetzel concluded, "Our expectations are high and we don't mind talking about the fact that we want to win it all. We are focused on the process and want to get better with each event. It is important to peak at the right time. With this schedule and this mindset, I fully anticipate we will have our best stuff come mid-April."
Live scoring of the spring-opening UCF Challenge is available online through GolfStatResults.