Earlier this week, Kennesaw State was the first women’s college golf team in the state to begin its Spring season, with the Owls closing the Fall as the highest ranked team among the state’s six Division 1 programs.
Kennesaw was ranked 37th nationally by Golfstat at the end of 2018, with Georgia 41 and Augusta 47. Mercer enters the Spring at 73 and will need to move up to qualify for a spot in the NCAA Regionals later this Spring. A total of 72 teams competed in the Regionals last year, with some of the conference champions that earned automatic bids outside the top 72 in the rankings. Both Georgia Southern and Georgia State begin the Spring outside the top 100.
After three decades as one of the top teams in women’s college golf, the Bulldogs have qualified for nationals just once since 2009. Georgia re-emerged as a national caliber team in 2015-16 after a recruiting jackpot, but Georgia’s return to prominence lasted only the one season.
Jillian Hollis, one of three highly-recruited signees in the high school class of 2015, turned pro last year after her junior season, and was followed last month by teammate Bailey Tardy, who turned pro to compete on the 2019 Symetra Tour.
That leaves Roswell’s Rinko Mitsunaga as the lone remaining member of the 2015 recruiting class, and Georgia enters the Spring with only six players on the roster, among them two freshmen who are joining the team at mid-season. Elisa Yang, a starter as a freshman in the Fall, joined fellow Gwinnett County resident Tardy in leaving the team following the Fall season.
Georgia placed fourth, seventh and sixth in its three Fall tournaments, playing without Tardy in the Alexa Stirling Intercollegiate at Atlanta Athletic Club, the team’s final event of 2018. Tardy, who missed almost all her junior season due to injury, was competing in the LPGA Q-series, earning a spot on the Symetra Tour as a result.
Mitsunaga had a respectable Fall showing with three top-20 finishes but with no under par rounds. Harmie Constantino, a freshman form the Philippines, was the team’s leading player in the Fall with a pair of top 10s, including a fifth in her college debut in a tournament in Michigan.
The only other returning starter from the Fall is junior Gabriela Coello, whose best finish was a tie for 22nd in the season opener. Coello also started for the Bulldogs as a sophomore. Also returning from the Fall roster is Alpharetta’s Kelsey Kurnett, who joined the team as a walk-on and made one appearance filling in for Tardy.
Joining the roster for the Spring are freshmen Jenny Bae and Jo-Hua Hung, who are both expected to move into the starting lineup immediately. Bae, who like Tardy and Yang is from Gwinnett County, was one of the state’s top female high school and junior golfers. Hung shot 2-under 70 in her Georgia debut, competing in a one-day, three-team event in Phoenix, with Bae contributing a 74.
The Bulldogs have a busy Spring schedule, with trips to Puerto Rico, California and a return to Arizona, along with closer-to-home tournaments at Hilton Head and Augusta. Georgia is the defending champion of the latter event. The Bulldogs will host the annual Liz Murphey Collegiate April 11-13, with the SEC Championship set for April 17-21 in Birmingham.
Like Georgia, the Owls lost one of their top players, as Dawsonville’s Madison Caldwell turned pro following the Fall season. Caldwell was the Atlantic Sun Player of the Year in 2017-18, but did not have a particularly strong Fall showing, with a tie for 12th in the season opener at Furman her only finish better than 25th.
The team’s top remaining players are senior Roanne Tomlinson and junior Clara Aveling. Tomlinson is the lone American player on the team, as the Owls have relied primarily on international golfers to fill out their roster since the program began in the mid 2000s. Aveling is from Belgium, with freshman Chloe Thornton from Australia and senior Charlotte Charrayre from France. Senior Medy Thavong, who will take Caldwell’s spot in the starting lineup, is from Thailand.
Other than Thornton, the Owls sport an experienced squad, with Aveling, Charrayre and Thavong all starting since their freshman seasons. Thavong was the Atlantic Sun Player of the Year as a sophomore, but did not have as strong a season as a junior and made just one start in the Fall.
The highlight of the Owls’ Fall campaign was a victory in a tournament at Old Waverly in Mississippi, with the team finishing one shot in front of Mississippi State with a school-record score of 5-under 571. Aveling and Tomlinson both had rounds in the 60s and tied for third at 141. Thornton tied for 10th and Aveling for 13th against a strong field at Medinah No. 2, with both players tying for 10th in the Alexa Stirling Intercollegiate at Atlanta Athletic Club.
The Owls began 2019 with a fifth place showing in a 16-team field in Orlando. Aveling opened with a 68 and tied for 10th at 5-under 211, with Thornton T15 at 213 with a second round 69. The Owls shot 9-under 855 and had no counting score from the three rounds higher than 73.
Kennesaw, which has only five players on its roster, will be playing its last three tournaments of the Spring in Georgia. The Owls play at Macon’s Brickyard in an event hosted by Mercer April 8-9 and will compete in Athens later that week in the Liz Murphey. The Atlantic Sun Championship is April 21-23 at the Legends at Chateau Elan. The Owls won their conference title in 2012, ’15 and ’18, with Aveling the tournament medalist as a freshman in 2016.
The Jaguars played just three times in the Fall, with their best finishes fourth at Furman and third in Las Vegas, where they shot a school record 18-under 846. Augusta finished one spot behind Kennesaw State at Furman and also at Medinah in Chicago.
Maggie Ashmore, a senior from Kingsland, fellow senior Cecilia Diez-Moliner and junior Charlotte Alran led the Jaguars, with all three averaging under 72 in the Fall.
Ashmore, who did not break into the starting lineup until her junior season, had Fall finishes of 20th, 24th and 8th, with Diez-Moliner also eighth in the 2018 finale in Las Vegas. Alran tied for third in Las Vegas, closing with scores of 66 and 65, the latter the lowest round in team history.
The fourth veteran member of the Augusta team is junior Linda Lundqvist, a three-year starter. Lundqvist is from Sweden, with Diez-Moliner from Spain and Alran from Switzerland. Six of the team’s eight players are from overseas, including sophomore Teresa Diez-Moliner, Cecilia’s sister, who made two Fall starts.
The jaguars will host as tournament at Forest Hills March 16-17 and wrap up its season April 11-13 in the Liz Murphey. The team is not in a conference, and must receive an at-large bid to compete in a NCAA Regional.
The Bears closed out their Fall schedule with a hometown win at Idle Hour, finishing 22 strokes ahead of the runner-up team. Terese Romeo led Mercer to the victory with a second place finish at 5-under 211, with Alpharetta junior Payton Schanen tying for sixth at 219.
Mercer’s winning score of 6-over 870 would have been even lower, but the top-10 finishes of senior Mary Janiga and Macon freshman Carol Pyon did not count toward the team total, as both competed as individuals. Janiga was fifth at 218 and Pyon eighth at 220.
In the team’s first four Fall tournaments, the Bears had only one finish higher than eighth, taking fifth in an event in Missouri. Janiga placed sixth in that tournament, with Romeo’s 10th place finish at Atlanta Athletic Club the team’s only other individual top 10 other than the event at Idle Hour.
Mercer will play this Spring without Romeo, who graduated in December. The Bears replaced her on the roster, as sophomore Laila Hrindova has transferred from Baylor. Hrindova is from Slovakia and joins senior Karina Kukkonen from Finland on the Mercer squad. Kukkonen is in her second season as a starter in Macon after transferring from Jacksonville State in Alabama.
Juniors Lauren Lightfritz and Tiffany Kim, teammates in high school at Lambert in Forsyth County, will try to return to the starting lineup after seeing limited action in the Fall. Lightfritz, who played on four straight state championship teams at Lambert, was a starter in each of her first two seasons, while Kim played extensively as a freshman.
Mercer opens its Spring schedule Feb. 16-17 at Reynolds National, and plays a second hometown event in 2018-19 at Macon’s Brickyard April 8-9. The Southern Conference Championship is scheduled for April 14-16 at Hilton Head.
The Eagles closed out the Fall with finishes of sixth, fourth and fifth, the latter in the event hosted by Mercer at Idle Hour. The team got strong Fall showings from senior Anlsey Bowman and junior Ella Ofstedahl, who both notched three top 10s in four Spring starts.
Bowman was second in Jacksonville, fourth in Spartanburg and sixth in Macon, with Ofstedahl second in Jacksonville and third in Macon. Both ended the Fall with scoring averages around 73.
No other Georgia Southern golfer finished better than 30th during the Fall, with six players vying for playing time behind the team’s two leaders.
Sophomores Natalie Peterson and Sarah Noonan made three appearances each, as did freshman Savannah Satterfield from Chatsworth. Peterson had the team’s third lowest scoring average, while Satterfield’s tie for 30th in Spartanburg was the best showing by any Georgia Southern golfer other than Bowman and Ofstedahl.
Emma Bell, a sophomore from Braselton, and Julianna Collett of St. Simons also started in the Fall. Collett was a full-time starter during her first two seasons with the Eagles, but missed the Spring of 2016-17 and the Fall of 2017-18 with an injury.
Other than a March tournament in Hawaii, the Eagles stick close to home this Spring, and will host an event on the campus golf course March 31-April 1. The Sun Belt Championship will be played April 15-17 in Daytona.
The best finish for the Panthers in five Fall tournaments was an eighth place showing at Pinehurst, similar to the team’s Fall results in 2017.
The team’s top three players are junior Harmanprit Kaur of Lawrenceville, English sophomore Chloe Howard and Swedish freshman Emma Berlin. Kaur led Georgia State with back-to-back finishes of 19th and 20th to open the Fall schedule, with Berlin tying for 19th in the third event at Pinehurt and for 20th in the Fall finale at Atlanta Athletic Club. Howard, who finished just behind her two teammates in Fall scoring average, was low for Georgia State in a tournament in Sarasota.
Also starting in the Fall for the Panthers were Spaniards Petra Duran, a sophomore, and freshman Maria Blasco. Jemima Gregson, a senior from England who started in her first three seasons at Georgia State, made only one Fall start in place of Blasco at Atlanta Athletic Club.
Freshmen Alejandra Ayala of Alpharetta and Nia Cole of Riverdale did not play during the Fall season.
The Panthers play two of their first three Spring events in Florida before hosting the annual John Kirk Panther Collegiate March 31-April 2 at Eagle’s Landing.