NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. – The three-time defending Atlantic Sun Conference Women’s Golf champions find themselves in a familiar place after the opening day of play at the 2012 championship tournament.
The Stetson Hatters are looking up at the tournament leaders from ETSU, but are just three strokes behind the Buccaneers, who established a new program record with an all-time low score of 290 on Monday at the Venetian Bay Golf Club.
Led by freshman Gabriella Wahl, whose opening round score of five-under par 67 tied for the all-time low round in A-Sun play, ETSU has a two shot lead over second place Kennesaw State and a three stroke advantage over the Hatters.
“Scoring conditions were great today, as the scores obviously indicate,” Hatters coach Floyd Kerr said. “There are three schools that are really tight in there for the lead, which is kind of what we expected.”
Wahl, who played the opening round with Stetson junior Alexandria Buelow and KSU’s Lea Charpier, was in a dead-heat with the Hattters’ two-time defending A-Sun tournament champion before posting consecutive birdies on holes 13, 14 and 15. Her 67 tied the 18-hole A-Sun Tournament record with former Buccaneer Laura Jansone (2008).
Buelow, who had four birdies and two bogeys on the front, played par golf on the back nine is tied with KSU’s Ket Preamchuen for second place, three shots behind the tournament leader.
“East Tennessee had a 290 as a team, with that 67, which really helps,” Kerr said. “Kennesaw had a 292 and we had a 293, which is five over and is about eight shots better than our average score this year.”
Wahl’s teammate Sian Evans, the 2011 A-Sun Freshman of the Year, aided the Buccaneers charge with a one-under-par, 71, with two birdies on the back nine to put the sophomore in a tie for fourth place.
Stetson’s Lauren Cate, a 2011 Second Team All-Conference member, opened the tournament at one-under-par to tie for fourth.
“Lauren had a 33 on the back to finish at one under, and that really gave us a boost,” Kerr said. “Like Alex, Ryan Ashburn was even on the back nine. It is tournament time, and everyone is ready to play. That showed today.”
Sophomore Sammi Smith was also solid on the back nine and finished her round with a three-over par score of 75. Ashburn finished the opening round with a five-over par score of 77. The fifth Stetson player, sophomore Mallory Viera, had to overcome a rough start on the back nine that included a double bogey on 12, but had pars on the final three holes to finish at seven-over par 79.
Mercer sits in fourth place with a program-best 18-hole team total of 298 to open the conference championship. The Bears’ team total broke last year’s opening round aggregate of 300. Sophomore Lacey Fears led the Mercer attack and is tied for fourth place with a one-under-par, 71.
Rounding out the top-five teams is FGCU with an opening round of 312 behind the play of Fabienne Haremza, the 2011 A-Sun Championship Runner-up, who carded a three-over-par, 75. Spots six through nine were separated by only five strokes as USC Upstate (316) sits in sixth place ahead of Jacksonville (317), Belmont (319) and Lipscomb (321).
“If the wind doesn’t blow tomorrow, which it didn’t do much today, then I expect to see some more good scores,” Kerr said. “We have two more days and if you are within 10 shots going into the last day then you’ll have a chance. Hopefully, we’ll be a little closer than that.”
The second round of the A-Sun Women’s Golf Championship begins Tuesday at 8 a.m.