The Jaguar women, who advanced to their first NCAA National Championships a season ago, secured three top-five finishes in the fall, including tied for first at Furman University’s Lady Paladin Invitational, fourth at Georgia Southern University’s The Southern and fifth at the University of Miami’s Hurricane Invitational.
“I think that we played some good golf in the fall, and I think the key for us going into the spring will be to figure out our fifth spot,” said head women’s golf coach Caroline Haase-Hegg. “We fell just short a few times in the fall, but we did a lot of good things and played a lot of good golf to where I’m optimistic about spring.”
Haase-Hegg has enjoyed seeing her team come together as a unit while seeing the upperclassmen mentor the new players. She also knows their early success will help their mentality once the spring season starts, when the team will be facing a lot of high-ranked teams in the field.
“I always want to play against the best because that’s how you test your game, but you can’t control what the other teams do,” Haase-Hegg said. “All you can control in golf is where your feet are and what’s in front of you as an individual. My expectations aren’t going to be dictated by where we finish in the field; it’s going to be about how we perform. I want to see us keep improving and keep building toward when we need to be at our best, which is April and May.”
Victoria Zheng, Napabhach Boon-In and Kennedy Carroll started all four tournaments in the fall for the Jaguars with Haase-Hegg trying different combinations of players at the four and five spot to key in on the strongest lineup. Zheng finished in the top 20 in every tournament, leading the team with a scoring average of 72.6, which included a season-low 69 in the second round of the Southern, where she finished tied for ninth with teammate Carroll.
“Vicki has definitely been our most consistent player,” Haase-Hegg said. “She hits a lot of fairways, a lot of greens and doesn’t make many mistakes. She’s improved greatly since the NCAA championships last year, has gotten a lot stronger on her ball flights and has been more effective with her short game. She’s always working at improving her putting and just trying to be more of a complete player.”
Boon-In was the team’s top finisher in two tournaments while Carroll recorded three top 25 finishes, including two top 15s. Keira Gonzalez-McCarthy played nine rounds over the first three tournaments with a stroke average of 74.4.
After a slow start to the year in Wisconsin, the women tied for first in their second match of the fall a week later, and it was in the final round of that second tournament where Haase-Hegg could see the potential of this team.
“It’s always good to get a win, but it’s even better to be able to compete for wins and put yourself in that position. Winning happens in two parts: first you have to get yourself in position and then you have to finish the job, and we did both of those things in Greenville. We didn’t falter down the stretch, and that’s a really good sign.”
The women will play in five tournaments this spring, starting at the Moon Golf Invitational hosted by Louisville on Feb. 18-20 followed by hosting the Valspar Invitational on March 9-10 at Forest Hills Golf Club. The back-to-back Southland champions will look to defend their crown in San Antonio, Texas, on April 17-19.
The Jaguar men finished in the top 10 in all five of their fall tournaments with a season-best third at both Kennesaw State University’s Pinetree Intercollegiate and East Tennessee State University’s Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate.
“I thought the fall was really good. As a team, we played solid, and we had a lot of guys individually have some really good contributions,” said Steven Paine, director of golf and head men’s golf coach, who mentioned the fields in all five events were against top quality teams that provided the challenge he was hoping his team would face. “We put ourselves in the final group against teams ranked in the top 30 in the nation. We didn’t always play as well as we would have liked, but it was really good to have that experience of playing with that pressure.”
Paine praised the effort he received from senior Dawson Booth, whom he refers to as a “late bloomer” only from the sense of the path he took to get this far. His golf career stopped and started multiple times, and Paine noted that he’s always been playing catch-up to the other golfers who were playing on the junior golf circuits at a much younger age.
After missing the first event in Wisconsin, Booth worked his way into the Jaguars’ lineup for the final four events of the fall, finishing 20th, 21st, a collegiate-best second and tied for eighth while shooting five rounds in the 60s.
“We could kind of see it coming. He maybe didn’t see it in the results early, but he grew a lot in the summer, and I believe all he has learned is starting to click for him. He’s been doing a lot of mental work, and I think all of that is just coming together,” Paine said.
Paine commended the performances by Stefan Jacobs and Ryan van der Klis alongside Booth in how they helped fuel the team’s effort. Jacobs finished tied for eighth, 26th, 21st, 14th and 25th in his five events. Van der Klis averaged 72.1 in his 15 rounds, which included three rounds in the 60s, highlighted by his opening-round 66 in Hawaii in the fall’s final event.
“We brought Ryan on for his leadership as well as his golf game,” said Paine, who coached van der Klis at Point University for two years prior to coming to AU. “He does everything by the book and is super professional and very disciplined. All his hard work is starting to pay off. He played some golf back home and finished third in professional tournaments. I’m looking for a big spring out of him.”
During the fall, Paine was able to take the entire roster to Kennesaw State’s Pinetree Intercollegiate, fielding two teams, which he said was designed to create more competitiveness among the players, as well as giving those who haven’t made the starting lineup yet a chance to experience it.
“They’re a pretty close-knit team, and we’re really big on culture,” Paine said. “That’s the tough thing with golf because you’re still playing by yourself but as a team. In basketball, you can take the whole team to a tournament, and, if the game is a blowout, you can put your ‘B’ lineup in. With golf, you usually only take five players, so if you’re the seventh, eighth or ninth guy, you could go the entire semester without playing. Because of that, we’re intentional about trying to take extra guys when we can.”
The Jaguar men will play in six tournaments in the spring, beginning with College of Charleston’s Battle at Briar’s Creek on Feb. 5-6. AU will host the Augusta Haskins Award Invitational on April 6-7 and will look to defend their Southland Conference title April 25-27 in San Antonio, Texas.