SAINT LEO, Fla. – "To be honest, right now we are as healthy as we've been all year."
If true, that assertion from Saint Leo head coach Tommy Baker could bode well as his Saint Leo women's golf team heads off to Key Biscayne, Fla., in search of the program's first Sunshine State Conference title.
The 2016 SSC Championship begins play on Sunday at Crandon Golf at Key Biscayne, with rounds two and three following on Monday and Tuesday.
"Mentally, I think everyone's ready to play post-season," said Baker. "We've always been a post-season team since I've been here and we've played better in the post-season. The ladies know the challenge that lies ahead and they're ready to attack it."
"It's always more fun to play for an actual championship, and this is our conference
championship and everybody wants to win it. Of course we get excited," said junior Marie Coors. "It's something you look forward to and you work for the entire season."
Coors knows this better than anyone. She became the first Saint Leo women's golfer in program history to capture the SSC individual title, when she took medalist honors in 2014 as a freshman. That victory propelled her to co-medalist honors at the NCAA South/Southeast Regional that season, and individual qualification to the NCAA Division II Women's Golf Championship.
However beset by back issues as a sophomore and a wrist injury that required surgery late this past fall, Coors is back to 100% for the first time since winning the SSC title and the South Region crown two years ago.
"Marie is now swinging the club and playing with a confidence I haven't seen since her freshman year," said Baker.
Coors' performance and depth of post-season experience will be a key to Saint Leo's chances for success on a Crandon Golf course that poses its share of challenges.
Located on Key Biscayne, Crandon Golf is rated the third-most difficult municipal golf course in the United States, trailing only Bethpage Black and Torrey Pines. Host of the Senior PGA Classic from 1987 to 2004, the west side of the course juts out into Biscayne Bay. Six large ponds dot the course, and all but a handful of holes touch water at some point.
Six par-5 holes on the par 72, 5,907-yard course contain approximately 45 percent of the yardage, meaning the remaining 12 holes will play short.
Baker said he felt the course will let his athletes have a little more freedom to pick their club and their approach to each hole, as opposed to last year's SSC championship at Red Tail Golf Club in Sorrento, Fla. That course was so long, explained Baker, that the only thing players could do was "bomb driver on every single tee shot."
"We kind of have an idea of what it's going to look like, but we really won't know the conditions or anything else until we see it during the practice round on Saturday," said Coors.
Joining Coors on the Saint Leo team that will attack the Crandon Golf course are sophomores Amanda Jakobsson and Vilde Eriksen, junior Sabrina Rumbaugh, and freshman Mao Young. Coors has led the Lions this season with a 75.25 stroke average over 20 rounds, but Jakobsson has been close behind with a 75.65 stroke average over her 23 rounds.
Eriksen has carded a 77.39 average over 23 rounds this season, while Rumbaugh put together a 78.92 average through 14 rounds in the spring after transferring from Jacksonville University. Mao Young has averaged 80.18 this season, but has swung the club well in recent weeks.
"I think we've got a shot," said Baker. "I think with us being as healthy as we were in the fall, I have no reservations thinking that we can come out there and make a statement. We've competed with these teams… and I think it's time for us to step up and play to our potential."
The team has been working on specific shots they feel they might need during the three-day, 54-hole SSC tournament, and has been trying to re-capture the confidence they had in the fall season when the Lions finished among the top three in three out of their four tournaments.
There is also the opportunity to learn how to deal with the challenge and pressure and stresses that go with post-season play, and that may be where Coors' experience comes most into play.
"You get into your routine; it's not like you play a different game of golf," remarked Coors. "You play a practice round, you map out the course, you have your strategy that we all discuss before heading out onto the course. So when you're at the course and out there playing, you have your game plan and you're going to stick to that."
"I think we had a really good fall, and now we're going to take that confidence, try to focus on what we did in the fall that made us that successful, and try to bring that into the conference championship," said Coors.
For more information on the Saint Leo women's golf program, visit SaintLeoLions.com. Fans can also stay up-to-date on the latest Lions news by following Saint Leo Athletics on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.