Tuesday May 10, 2011

Usually, fielding a five-person college team that includes two freshmen, two sophomores and a second-year head coach isn't a prescription for immediate success.

That hasn't been the case, however, for the women's golf team at Williams College.

The Ephs head into the first round of the 72-hole NCAA Division III Championship today at Mission Hills Resort at Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla., ranked No. 4 in the nation and with the talent to contend for a title.

Coach Erika DeSanty, a former All-Eagle basketball MVP who led Drury High School to a Western Massachusetts title in 2001, knew her golfers had ability, but did she envision them winning six of eight tournaments and having the medalist in five of them?

"I'm not sure what I expected, but I knew we had the potential to do great things," DeSanty said. "The team has continued to rise to the challenge."

Freshmen Georgi Salant and Emily Wickstrom, a pair of Californians, both have won tournaments to lead the way. Salant is currently ranked No. 3 in the country in Division III. " Georgi has the complete game," DeSanty said. "She's really long off the tee, and her distance has increased in a big way from the fall into the spring. She's also been very consistent and has the ability to get it up-and-down when she misses a green. She is playing with great confidence."

Sophomores Victoria Student and Becky Miller will be looked to for leadership. They played in last year's tournament, which was also played at Howey- in- the- Hills.


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The fifth starter, senior Dale Markey, didn't play last year when the Ephs finished a program- best seventh, Four days of golf in Florida won't be anything like playing tournaments in cool, damp New England weather in the spring.

"Playing in 90-degree weather for 72 holes under pressure is a lot to deal with," DeSanty said. "The challenge in Florida isn't the sun. It's the humidity. Carrying your bag for six hours in that humidity is tough."

The course conditions, of course, will also be different.

"The ball is going to roll more. It hasn't been rolling [in New England] this spring," said DeSanty, who is a member of the LPGA Teaching and Club Professionals.

Still, having had to deal with a difficult spring could have its advantages.

" We've been practicing in tough conditions," DeSanty said. " That can help build mental strength and stamina." The Ephs have also developed a strong team bond.

"They are very close," said DeSanty. "They do everything together, and even on days off they come out and practice. They are big supporters of one another."

The big question this week will be how that close, but relatively inexperienced team can handle the big stage.

" We haven't talked about where we might finish," DeSanty said. "If we play our best, we have the potential to win. But our focus is just on playing golf and to not even think about winning until Friday."

Each day four of the top five scores are counted. The Ephs had a superb 304 total in their Spring Invitational at Taconic Golf Club, only to follow it up with a so-so 329. That can't happen this week.

"The biggest thing is consistency," DeSanty said. " You don't have to shoot in the low 70s. You just need to keep the scores between 76 and 85."

DeSanty figures an average between 315 and 320 - an average of 79 or 80 - will keep the Ephs in contention.

There are handful of teams with the potential to win with top- seeded DePauw ( Ind.) University and No. 2 Methodist ( N. C.) University the ones to beat. Methodist has won an astounding 13 consecutive national championships.

"The difference between us and them is experience," said DeSanty. " With experience comes that consistency."

Win or lose, this week will be a great experience for such a young team.

"It will set the stage for the future," DeSanty said. "This tournament will be special in showing us how far we have come."