Williams women's golf team seeks consistency in bid to win NCAA Division III title
At last year's NCAA Division III tournament, the Williams College women's golf team carded the lowest scores in the first and third rounds, proving the Ephs could match anyone on their best days.
The second and fourth rounds, however, were a much different story. The result was a tie for fifth place instead of a battle to the finish with eventual winner Methodist University, which is favored to win a staggering 16th consecutive title starting Tuesday in Destin, Fla.
When you talk to coach Erika DeSanty and No. 1 player Georgiana Salant, one obvious theme keeps popping up. Consistency.
"Methodist is just consistently good and that was the difference," DeSanty said. "Our best rounds were in the national championship and that was fantastic in so many ways. But we didn't do it every day."
Indeed, the Monarchs took consistency to a new level with rounds of 310-310-312-310 while the Ephs had roller-coaster rounds of 307-323-309-326.
"This year we have had a host of team goals for each tournament and we talk about it after each round," said junior Salant, who has captured four individual titles this season. "We know we need to start each day like it is completely new. We need to stay on an even keel and not get too excited about any one day."
DeSanty's team is more equipped to do that this year with four of five players -- Salant, senior Becky Miller, junior Emily Wickstrom and sophomore Shelby Shote -- having experienced the highs and lows of last year's tournament. The four, along with sophomore Paige Whidby, have also improved as the Ephs' six wins in seven tournaments shows.
"We are so far ahead of where we were last year," DeSanty said. " We have more competitive experience and are scoring better. And it's not just our top five. Our entire team has played better."
Salant, whose emergence from good to elite has helped lift everyone's game, agrees.
"The whole team is really focused," Salant said. "Our practices have been very competitive and we have great team chemistry."
Even the team's one loss, a second-place finish to Ithaca College in Middlefield, Conn., has turned into a blessing in disguise.
"That was a great learning experience," Salant said. "It taught us that we need to be ready each day. It showed us that every shot matters."
Methodist and the other top teams will be dealing with a different Salant this time around.
"I think Georgi has always been an incredibly skilled golfer," DeSanty said. "You can compare her talent to anyone in the country. But this year, she's had a breakthrough. As much as I could tell her, or teammates could tell her, how good she was, it didn't matter until she believed it. Something clicked this year."
"In the past, I struggled to put two good days together," said Salant. "I knew I had to stop second-guessing myself and play my game and not worry about any inconsistencies in my swing that day."
That's mindset has produced spectacular results. Rounds of 80 or above have disappeared and she's gone as low as 144 for 36 holes at Taconic Golf Club in Williams' fall event. She's had low rounds of 71 in that tournament and 72 in a win at Wellsley.
When Salant is on, it's catching.
"She knows that when she is performing well, it's better for the others," DeSanty said.
Salant is aware of her impact.
"My goal is always for the team win, not the individual win," she said. "So I always try to keep my head high and give a thumbs-up when I see the other girls on the course. I do what I can to keep morale high."
The other Ephs have clearly made strides in their games as well.
"Emily is coming off a 76 in our home event and is finally recognizing the player she can be," DeSanty said. "Becky's game is better than it has been. She has complete control of what she's doing. Paige is coming into her own and Shelby is an incredible competitor who knows how to come back from a mistake."
The toughest job for DeSanty is telling a key team member she won't be playing. The odd woman out for this tournament is senior Victoria Student, who came in with Miller the same year DeSanty took over as coach.
"Victoria and Becky are true supporters of the team," DeSanty said. "They have shaped the culture here and, more than anything else, I hope we can make this as memorable as possible so that is the legacy they leave."
Salant seconds that emotion.
"Becky and Victoria were both big reasons I came to Williams. They are amazing people and helped pioneer this program."
Ending Methodist's title run would definitely be a good going-away present.
"We're hoping to take this one home," Salant said. "It would be really great to stop [the Monarchs] in their tracks."