TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Last season, a Florida State women’s golf team without a single senior stepped to the door of its sport’s elite and gave it a healthy knock.
A year older, wiser and more experienced, the Seminoles are back and believe that they’re ready to kick the door down.
FSU, ranked No. 5 in the country, will participate in this week’s NCAA National Championship at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill., where they’ll be among the favorites to capture the national title.
That’s due in large part to a lineup that boasts four players with experience in the NCAA Championship field.
“Last year,” senior Lydia Gumm said, “we were new and we didn’t know what to expect. But I think having that one year of experience will help.”
But it’s not just the experience that has the Seminoles feeling confident.
Their body of work lends itself to good vibes as well.
Led by Gumm, senior Matilda Castren, juniors Morgane and Kim Metraux and freshman Amanda Doherty, FSU has enjoyed perhaps the finest season in program history.
Not only did the Seminoles set a new school record with six tournament victories (tied for most in the country), they haven’t so much as finished any lower than fourth.
That ought to come in handy at an event in which the field is trimmed to eight teams after four rounds.
From there, the top eight will pair off into match play to determine the national champion.
“You’ve kind of got to almost treat it as two different tournaments,” FSU coach Amy Bond said. “You’ve got to make it through to match play. … The one little caveat there is that after three rounds, they cut to 15 team. So you’ve got to make sure you’re in that 15 number.”
The Seminoles also feel that their NCAA regional experience earlier this month could play in their favor, too.
FSU overcame a challenging course, wintry weather and a toe-stub in the second round to finish third at the NCAA Columbus Regional and reach the NCAA Championship. (The top six of an 18-team field advanced.)
Bond likes that the course at Rich Harvest Farms favors the Scarlet Course the Seminoles played in Columbus – the two share the same grass, as well as similar roughs and greens.
More than that, though, she likes that the Seminoles were forced to fight through a bout of adversity before finding their footing.
That came in the second round, when the Seminoles shot 10 bogeys, three double-bogeys and one triple-bogey on the way to a 12-over par mark on the front nine. Along the way, FSU slid from second place to fourth and suddenly found its position among the top six in jeopardy.
But rather than wilt in the face of mounting pressure – or in the chill of 40-degree temperatures made even cooler by a steady wind – the Seminoles instead rallied to finish 1-under par on the back nine and solidify their place on the leaderboard.
“They had to have a little bit of a gut check,” Bond said. “What last week taught me is you never give up on this team. No matter how down they are early on, they’re going to find a way to bounce back.
“If they let that second round (get away), I don’t know that we’re standing here today.”
During her seven-year tenure in Tallahassee, Bond has jump-started a program that qualified for nationals just once during the four years prior to her arrival and, after rebuilding its foundation through recruiting, has established itself among the nation’s top tier.
The Seminoles have had plenty of memorable moments over the past few years – last year’s NCAA breakthrough comes to mind – but none of those previous teams have been built quite like this one.
Two seniors, two juniors and one beyond-her-years freshman have FSU on the verge of uncharted territory.
It’s exactly as Bond envisioned four years ago, when she signed the first members of what would become the most successful lineup the program has ever had.
With one more ride together, that group – and Bond – has another chance to make a little more history.
“With golf, sometimes things look really good on paper and they don’t come out in reality the same,” Bond said. “But this group has really done everything they possibly could to get to this point.
“It’s really on them. This is their moment.”