By earning the Empire 8 Conference and Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Championships in its third season as a varsity sport, the women’s golf team turned a corner by taking down opponents it had consistently lost to in the past.
The Blue and Gold finished ahead of Empire 8 Conference foe St. John Fisher College in all six invitationals during the fall season, defeating them by 100 strokes at the Empire 8 Championships on Sept. 17 and 18 in Churchville, N.Y. At the regional championships, they also defeated New York University, a team that had beaten the college twice in two years by 32 strokes.
The freshman duo of Sharon Li and Kelsey Baker proved to be a formidable pair at every competition. Head Coach Dan Wood said though he recruited the two at the same time, Baker’s impact was more of a surprise.
“Until her very final round, every one of her scores was between 80 and 89, and that was outstanding for a freshman,” he said.
Though Li and Baker had the greatest impact on the team this season, St. John Fisher Head Coach Bob Simms said the Bombers’ depth was their greatest strength this season.
“They had strong options from top to bottom, which made it tough to predict who would finish where,” Simms said.
Wood said the Bombers’ depth was exhibited in the fight for the six spots available in the group sent to compete at each invitational. Sophomore Amanda Failla and junior Jackie Young alternated between the second and third spots while junior Samantha Liberty and freshman Paige Fontana ended up with the same season stroke average of 92 while they competed in the five and six spots in the lineup.
Liberty and Fontana were selected to the Empire 8 Conference Second Team for the first time in their careers after finishing in the top 10 at the conference championships.
Wood said accountability was the most prominent factor in the team’s success this season.
“If they deal with the conditions and do the best they can, they’ll generally show improvement,” he said. “They did a very good job of never giving up, even on a tough day, and were fully committed to each shot they took.”
The South Hill squad also rewrote the record books this year. They broke all of the team’s records, posting a final score of 654 strokes, while Li shattered all of the individual records.
Li’s score of 71, one-under par, in the second round of the conference championships was the first sub-par score in the Empire 8 Conference’s decade-long history and is also the lowest single round score in the college’s history. Li’s two-day total of 149 strokes at the regional championships was also a school record.
Lynn Quinn, head coach of the golf team at William Smith College, said the Bombers adjusted to the course better than they had in last year’s competitions.
“They seem well prepared for the courses that they played on,” she said. “My team enjoys the competition it got from them, and they’ve greatly improved in the two years that I’ve been here.”
Despite the team’s diligence in their preparation and ability to overcome adversity, Failla said mental toughness was one of the Bombers’ weaknesses that they will look to improve on for the spring season.
“Our most important thing is staying focused,” she said. “Sometimes our mental game isn’t always great.”
Wood said a realistic goal for each player on the team would be improving their overall score by two or three strokes by next fall. He said the team was outplayed on short distance shots in meets against nationally ranked programs.
“Teams like Allegheny College and Methodist University are certainly better than we are from 50 yards in,” he said.
Li said exposure to new courses and opponents made her first season on the team memorable.
“It was definitely exciting and surprising,” Li said. “Especially with the different weather, the new teams that we were playing against and the new records we were setting.”