SAINT LEO, Fla. – The Saint Leo women's golf team heads into previously unknown territory this week as it heads to Denver, Colo., to compete in the 2016 NCAA Division II National Championship.
The four-round, 72-hole tournament starts Wednesday, May 18, at the Tom Doak-designed CommonGround Golf Course (formerly the Lowry AFB golf course, until the base closed in the mid-1990s) in the Denver suburb of Aurora.
The Lions are veterans at the NCAA regional round, having qualified for the brutally tough South Super Regional in six of the last seven seasons. This, however, will be Saint Leo's first team appearance at the national championship event, after twice sending individuals in 2012 (Goeun Lee) and 2014 (current junior Marie Coors).
And, of course, it had to be in the year the event was in Colorado's "mile high city".
The challenge for Head Coach Tommy Baker has not only been dealing with mentally preparing his team to face the toughest 12 teams in Division II, but with the changes necessitated by going from playing at 70-feet above sea level to roughly 5,200-feet.
"I feel that the altitude will pose more of an issue on the golf ball than with anything else. We spend all year learning our yardages and this week all that goes out the window," said Baker.
"With the altitude, the ball will travel anywhere from eight to 15 percent farther and that makes a big difference on the golf course."
The Lions have been idle from competition since finishing third at the South Super Regional at the Marcus Pointe Golf Club in Pensacola, Fla., back on May 4. Saint Leo carded a 54-hole total of 902, eight strokes off the pace set by regional champion Nova Southeastern.
Coors set the pace for the Lions with an eight-over 224, good enough to finish eighth overall. She was followed by sophomore Vilde Eriksen, who fired a nine-over 225 and placed ninth.
Sophomores Margine Arguello and Amanda Jakobsson, along with junior Sabrina Rumbaugh, round out the Saint Leo five in the national championship. Arguello went out and fired a two-under 70 on the first day of the Super Regional and was tied for the lowest round in the tournament, in her first competitive event of the spring.
Keeping those five young women focused on the task at hand will be Baker's primary focus once the first round tees off on Wednesday. Once the Lions get past the opening ceremonies, practice rounds, the thinner air, different types of grass, colder temperatures, and all the hoopla around competing in a national championship – in the end, it comes down to reading the course and making shots.
"It's important for them to acknowledge the magnitude of this event and embrace all the things that come with it, but at the same time it's more important to prepare the same way they have all year," said Baker. "Changing their preparation at this point in the season only adds stress during a long week of golf. Luckily for us, most of the tournaments we play throughout the year have dinners or banquets, so all of that is business-as-usual for us."
"As far as the altitude and the grass and any other differences, it's important to keep it simple and don't muddle down their thought process with too much information. My plan is to give them the facts and techniques, and then get out of the way for them to execute," added Baker.
The Lions will tee off from the first tee at 9:10 a.m. Mountain Time for Wednesday's first round, and will go from the 10th tee at 8:00 a.m. in Thursday's second round. Tee times for the third and fourth rounds on Friday, May 20, and Saturday, May 21, will be determined based on standings after round two.
Complete field for the NCAA Division II Women's Golf National Championship is as follows:
Central Super Regional Teams:
1. Augustana (South Dakota)
2. Northeastern State
3. Missouri Western State
Central Super Regional Individuals:
1. Daniela Martinez, Central Oklahoma
2. Caroline Fredensborg, Arkansas Tech
3. Rachel Gray, Concordia-St. Paul
East Super Regional Teams:
2. Grand Valley State
East Super Regional Individuals:
1. Ali Green, Ashland
2. Kasey Frazier, Wheeling Jesuit
3. Anastasia Carter, Southern Indiana
South Super Regional Teams:
1. Nova Southeastern
3. Saint Leo
South Super Regional Individuals:
1. Felicia Leftinger, Florida Tech
2. Paloma Vaccaro, West Florida
3. Elaine Wood, Montevallo
West Regional Teams:
1. Tarleton State
2. Dallas Baptist
3. West Texas A&M
West Super Regional Individuals:
1. Erica Wang, California Baptist
2. Audrey Meisch, Oklahoma Christian
3. Sterling Hawkins, Academy of Art
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.