Hatters women’s golf coach Floyd Kerr knows for certain what his lineup is going to be for virtually every tournament this year.
That is because Stetson enters the 2012-13 season with just six players on the roster, and the only new player suffered an injury before arriving on campus. That leaves the Hatters with just the five returning juniors to carry the load.
They will get their first opportunity to show what they can do this weekend when they join with the Stetson men’s team at the GolfWeek Program Challenge in Myrtle Beach, SC. The tournament features both the men’s and women’s teams from 12 schools and will crown team and individual champions, like every other tournament, but also an overall champion.
Kerr, who is entering his eighth season at Stetson, said there is good and bad in having such a small squad.
“When you don’t have to qualify, that frees me up to have the girls work on parts of their game rather that being out competing for a spot,” Kerr said. “They know they have a spot now. The bad side is keeping them from becoming complacent. It is my job to make sure that doesn’t happen. I think this can be a positive, if they take advantage of it to work on what they need to work on.”
What the Hatters must do this year is find a way to make up for the departure of their top two players from last year. Three-time Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year Alexandra Buelow graduated early and left to pursue her professional career. Stetson also lost Lauren Cate, who was a senior last year.
“We have a group that has lots of talent,” Kerr said. “We are looking for the players to step up and lead this year. That is yet to be determined. We don’t have anyone who is a standout player who can lead by example with their play.
“We are looking for one or two to jump up and take the lead there, but it might be a team where we have a different low scorer each week. That couple be a positive thing as well because all of the kids know they will have a chance to be the low scorer any week. It is a pretty healthy environment right now.”
The five returning juniors have had mixed success in their careers. Mallory Viera (Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla.) has the low career scoring average for the Hatters, having posted a 75.9 average in 43 career rounds. Sammi Smith (Louisville, Ky.) and Ryan Ashburn (Largo, Fla.) have career averages of 78.4 and 78.7, respectively. Smith has played 49 rounds while Ashburn has played 47.
The other two returnees, Claudia Redinger (Durban, South Africa) and Jenna Hoecker (Rochester, NY) have career scoring averages of 81.2 and 81.3. Redinger has played 33 collegiate rounds while Hoecker has played 27.
The group of five juniors will eventually be joined by the only new member of the squad, freshman Zsófia Szurovszki (Budapest, Hungary). In addition to suffering an injury over the summer, one that may cost her most or all of this year, she is also having initial eligibility issues.
When the Hatters get to Myrtle Beach this weekend, they will face a tough, but not daunting, field of opponents. The favorites in the event will be the defending champions from Campbell. Others in the field are Austin Peay, Boston College, Central Arkansas, Georgetown, Jacksonville State, James Madison, Northern Iowa, Troy, Missouri-Kansas City and Western Carolina.
The women will play at the Caledonia Golf and Fish Club on Pawley’s Island. Kerr said he has played the course and gives it high marks. The men will play at True Blue Plantation.
“In my opinion, Caledonia is the best golf course in the entire Myrtle Beach area,” Kerr said. “I have played it a half dozen times and it is a great golf course. Both courses were designed by a guy named Michael Strantz. Caledonia is right on the river and is a gorgeous piece of property. It is a fun course to play. Every hole is a real treat.”
Going into the season, Kerr said he and the team have modest goals, following up on a 2011-12 season in which the Hatters set the school record with an average round score of 300.
“If we can finish in the top half of the field, that would be good,” Kerr said. “For the fall, that is kind of our goal, to finish in the top half of the field of any event we are in. I think, right now, this team is a 310 average team. By the end of the year, I think that 305 or 304 is where we would hope to be.
“I think we will get better as the season progresses. By conference tournament time, if we improve like I think we will with playing time, we should be somewhat of a challenger to win the conference tournament.”
After traveling to South Carolina on Friday, the Hatters will play a practice round on Saturday at 12:30 before single rounds of competition on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
“We have a good group and they are working hard, knowing that we lost our top two players from last year,” Kerr said. “They feel like they need to establish their own identity, and we are looking for that right now. As the year progresses, we will see that happen.”