The Kent State women’s golf team’s quest for an NCAA championship begins Thursday as the Golden Flashes tee off in the NCAA Tournament’s regional round, vying to make it out of the 24-team field at the Stanford Golf Course in California.
The women won their 15th consecutive Mid-American Conference golf championship last Sunday.
First up for the Flashes on their quest to advance to the NCAA Championship for just the fifth time in program history is the par 71, 6,130-yard Stanford Golf Course. There, the top eight teams from each of the three regionals compete to advance to the NCAA Championship, held this year at the University of Georgia Golf Course in Athens, Ga.
It’s never easy being fresh after a long trip to the West Coast, but it wasn’t anything close to as tough as it was for the team to overcome suddenly losing their 15-year coach Mike Morrow halfway through the season in late January — just a few weeks before the start of the spring season.
“With Mike retiring unexpectedly, the girls were in a little bit of shock, a little bit down,” said associate head coach Rob Wakeling said. “It was hard on them. It took a couple tournaments to get used to having a different coach.”
In between, the Flashes finished last and second-to-last in two tournaments in February before Wakeling started to notice an upward trend.
“[Interim head coach] Herb [Page], myself and [assistant coach) Maddi [Swaney] started running the practices. I’m not saying it’s been better or worse, just that things were a little different and it took some time to get acclimated. But once they did, the girls have responded awesome.”
What Morrow’s departure put most in jeopardy was KSU’s streak of having won 14 consecutive MAC tournament titles — all coming under his reign.
“I think in the preview for the tournament, we weren’t even mentioned at all,” Wakeling said. “It was all about Eastern Michigan and maybe another team and how this was the year that maybe another team would win it.”
But the Flashes rallied after the slow start to the season, increasingly getting better in each tournament before winning the nine-team league tournament April 28 to keep the streak alive.
The Flashes are looking to advance to the NCAA Championship for just the fifth time in program history.
They’ll do so by relying heavily on the hot hand of sophomore Jennifer Ha, who earned individual medalist honors after shooting 222 in the MAC Tournament at Longaberger Golf Club in Nashport.
“She’s worked hard with Herb on her putting stroke,” Wakeling said. “That’s Herb’s thing — make your weakness a strength. And she’s done awesome lately, finishing third, second and first in her last three tournaments.
“Elite players can win without being perfect and I think Jennifer realized that. She can hit the ball a long, long way and it gives her a really nice advantage. She’s not really big, but she’s got a really nice golf swing, has good fundamentals and she can really power that power that ball a long ways.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/sports.abj.