Heading into today’s three-day MAC Championship golf tournament in Fishers, Ind., the University of Akron women’s team finds itself in a unique position: having some momentum to close the season.
The young program will take a run at the title coming off its second tournament win of the season at Eastern Kentucky University’s Colonel Classic a few weekends ago. The team won that title playing without its best golfer.
“That type of confidence is great going into the MAC championship,” coach Jenny King said.
Looking at her roster, King has high expectations, believing that UA is one of six teams that have a shot at winning the conference title.
“It’s going to be a shootout,” she said. “With golf, it’s really hard to predict. With golf, anything can happen. You just never know.”
But the Zips go in knowing that they have several players they can count on — all from King’s first recruiting class, when the program began. Now seniors, each brings something to the table, King said.
Kristen Hill is a consistent player who produces birdies regularly. Ravenna’s Katie Jenior plays a nice long game with lots of birdies, and Amanda Butler finishes strong.
Jenior, who got her first individual victory at UA’s Zippy Invitational earlier this season, has confidence in the team.
“I expect us to be one of the highest competitors,” she said. “Kent’s been really strong the past few years, but we have a really strong team this year.”
It’s a long way to come in a short time for the program, which King began just four years ago.
A graduate of the University of Kentucky, she led the Transylvania University women’s team to prominence in the NAIA from 2001 to 2003 before returning to UK as an assistant and head coach of the junior varsity.
Although she had head coaching experience, she had none in building a program from the bottom up.
“At first it’s overwhelming. You don’t really have a guidebook that tells you how to start a women’s golf program,” she said. “I had a lot of help from coaching friends who started golf programs 10-15 years ago that were really good resources.”
She used that advice, married it to her own ideas and, with the freedom she received from UA, discovered that starting from scratch actually proved to be an advantage.
She could offer potential recruits something many coaches couldn’t: competition time.
Jenior, who wanted to remain close to home, agreed: “That was a huge factor in my decision because my high school coach told me to go where I could make an impact.”
Jenior’s class has done that. King acknowledges that this weekend will be bittersweet for her and the team.
“I don’t think it’s going to hit me until Sunday when they’re done, when I say: ‘Oh, my God, this is their last tournament,’ ” she said.
But that won’t dominate the weekend.
“I don’t want them to focus on that. I want them to think about just playing their own game and executing their game plan and ending on the best note that they can,” she said. “I don’t want them to put any extra pressure on themselves or get too emotional.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.