The women’s golf team will head to the Fall Empire 8 Championship this weekend at Mark Twain Golf Course in Elmira, N.Y., with just one full tournament under its belt and two of its best players coming off injuries. Despite recent minor injuries to key sophomore Sharon Li and senior Jackie Young, the Bombers are still favorites to win the Empire 8 again.
In the three years since the Empire 8 expanded into women’s golf, the Bombers have finished second at the conference championships once and won each of the last two Empire 8 titles, one of which included a 100-stroke victory last year.
Head Coach Dan Wood said his team believes it can repeat as conference champions.
Wood said he thinks Nazareth College and host school Elmira College will provide the Blue and Gold with their strongest challenge. Nazareth and St. John Fisher College are sending freshman-heavy teams, while Elmira is competing in just its second tournament under new Head Coach Timothy Crowley Jr. Provisional Empire 8 member Houghton College is sending individual players for the first time.
With so many unknown variables in this year’s championships the Blue and Gold will need to be prepared for anything. Wood said having a mostly freshman roster didn’t stop the Bombers from surprising their competition last year.
“They could be better than we are,” Wood said. “We came in with five freshmen last year and a lot of teams were shocked.”
The Bombers play NCAA tournament regulars like Williams College and Wittenberg University later in the season. Wood said his players know this might be their best chance at a trophy this fall.
“They know if we’re going to have a chance to win any of these tournaments, our best chance is the Empire 8’s,” Wood said.
The championships will begin Sept. 15, just one week into the Bombers’ schedule. The Empire 8 golf championships start earlier than any of the conference’s other athletic tournaments. The unusually early start date is because of the combination of team availability and the need to get the meet in before the cold weather. However, as far as senior Jackie Young is concerned, the Blue and Gold don’t really need as much time to get ready for major championships in golf as they do in other sports.
“The timing doesn’t really affect how we prepare,” Young said. “It’s not like soccer or football or another team sport where we have to figure out how to coordinate with each other. We’ve all been working on our game since last March, and it doesn’t matter if it was our first tournament of the season or even our last.”
Five of the six Bombers making the 33-mile trip to Elmira on Saturday are returning players, including sophomores Kelsey Baker, Sharon Li and Paige Fontana and juniors Amanda Failla and Young. The team’s sole freshman, Taylor Reeves, will compete in the individual championships.
Failla said the South Hill squad should be more confident and relaxed this year now that it has a better idea of how each player should perform in a championship environment.
As early as the Empire 8 Championships take place, Wood said the Bombers are glad they didn’t take place one week earlier. Heading into the St. Lawrence Invitational on Sept. 8-9 in Canton, N.Y., Li was given a waiver for qualifying because of a bruised wrist caused by a wayward golf ball, and Young was limited in qualifying by some general soreness. Wood said both players will be ready to go for the championships next weekend.
Because of neutrality rules, the tournament isn’t being held at the same course in Elmira where the Bombers usually play Elmira College. Young said Mark Twain Golf Course is relatively similar to the Country Club of Ithaca, except for a couple more variations in elevation.
“There’re a lot of holes that are wide open, and as long as you hit your tee shot, you really can’t screw up much on the hole,” Young said. “But there are a couple of holes that are really tight and a couple of holes that you really need to do well off the tee and into the green.”
While the Bombers will have to adjust to an unfamiliar course, Failla said the factor that will really determine how much success the Bombers have at the Empire 8 Championships is how much each player is able to focus on improving her individual game.
“It just depends on the person,” Failla said. “For me, I want to work on my putting, but it’s different for everyone.”