JEKYLL ISLAND, Ga. - For three years the Stetson Hatters set the gold standard for women’s golf play in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
The Hatters saw their streak of dominance come to an end last year, not so much because of a drop in Stetson’s play, but due much more to the improvement of the teams in the rest of the league.
The Hatters will try to climb back to the top of the mountain this week when the A-Sun Tournament moves to the Pine Lakes Course at the Jekyll Island Golf Club near Jacksonville. Play begins with 18-holes of competition on Monday and will continue through the final round on Wednesday.
Stetson owned the A-Sun Championship record for lowest team score before three teams bested the mark last year. This year, the Hatters are the No. 4 seed for the tournament behind top-seeded ETSU, Mercer and defending champion Kennesaw State.
Hatters coach Floyd Kerr said any of the top four teams could take the title this year.
“The A-Sun will be won by the team who has the hot hand this week,” Kerr said. “There are four legitimate contenders. ETSU will be the odds-on favorite on paper, but they are a hot-and-cold team and may have a down week, which would lead to a wide open tournament. If they have a good week it will be extremely hard for any team to catch them.”
Stetson comes into the A-Sun Tournament off a good, but not great, performance last week at the Web.com Invitational at Marsh Landing. The Hatters posted scores of 305, 302 and 299 which was good for a tie for 13th place with Michigan in what was a 20-team tournament.
“We continued to get quality rounds from our entire team,” Kerr said. “Once again every player had a counting score for at least two rounds. This was an exceptionally strong field and to finish 13th was a good effort.”
Stetson’s five juniors finished within five shots of each other in the final standing. Ryan Ashburn turned in the low score for the Hatters with a 227. Mallory Viera (228), Sammi Smith (229), Claudia Redinger (231) and Jenna Hoecker (232) were lined up right behind Ashburn.
“Our team is playing with more confidence than ever and has really started to believe in one another,” Kerr said. “They are not afraid to post some good numbers. We still have not reached where we can be, but we are moving in an upward spiral.”
That upward trend will have to continue this week for the Hatters to push their way back to the top of the A-Sun.
Defending champion Kennesaw State is ranked No 83 by both GolfWeek and Golfstat, and returns all five of its participants from last year’s championship. The Owls hope to become the 11th repeat champion in the championship’s 24-year history and are coming off a tie for eighth place last week at Marsh Landing where they finished 12 shots in front of Stetson.
ETSU (58/59) remains the highest rated A-Sun team in the latest GolfWeek/Golfstat rankings. The Bucs lead the A-Sun in team stroke average at 302.6, and have all five of their lineup in the Top-10 in stroke average.
Mercer’s third-place finish last season was its best since 2007, tying that team for the best finish in program history and setting the program’s best score of 880 by 35 strokes (2010 - 915). The Bears (84/76) have been ranked in the Top-100 all season and have two of the top three players in stroke average in the A-Sun in Lacey Fears (74.65) and Mary Alice Murphy (75.15). Fears (74.65) owns the best stroke average in the A-Sun, just topping KSU's Ines Lescudier (74.70).
Even with all the improvement made by other teams in the league, Kerr still likes his teams’ chances, if they put it all together for three days.
“I like the positive attitude of our team right now,” Kerr said. “This group has taken a while to understand how to be successful but I think they are really starting to get it. I truly believe that every player on our team is going to the conference tournament thinking if we play Hatter golf we will be very competitive in the tournament.”
Follow the A-Sun Championship live at Golfstat.com and check out the A-Sun's championship coverage each day beginning Monday on the Women's Golf Championship page.