HARRIS COUNTY - HSA INSIDER

A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: A big weekend in golf

Jamie Freedman leads the Nova Southeastern Sharks. nsusharks.com

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The best team in Division II women’s golf?

It just might be the Nova Southeastern University Sharks.

They roll into next week’s NCAA Division II Championship at Bay Oaks Country Club down in Clear Lake, ranked No.1 in the nation and favored, despite having finished third in this week’s tough South Super Regional.

Don’t shake your head. The South is the strongest region in Division II and the two teams that beat the Sharks happen to be defending champion Barry University and 2016 champ Rollins.

And the Sharks? NSU won four consecutive NCAA Division II titles from 2009-2012 – as well as runner-up finishes in 2008 and 2013 -- and they’re eyeing a fifth.

They’re a team that won six straight tournaments at one point and finished the regular season with 10 wins in 13 events. Their roster is filled with talent, including four players who have been together for three seasons.

And did we mention their first win of the 2017-2018 season was at Bay Oaks? The Sharks beat Dallas Baptist by six shots to win the NCAA Division II National Preview in Houston in September.

Still not enough? Their top player is senior Jamie Freedman, the only Division II player – male or female – to be named to the 2018 Arnold Palmer Cup, which will be played in July at the Evian Resort in France. She was the medalist in the Preview event at Bay Oaks and has been a top-10 fixture this season.

Freedman is currently ranked fourth individually and is one of four Sharks in the top 15. Senior teammate Michelle Ruiz, the Sunshine State Conference 2018 medalist, is fifth; junior Sophie Madden is ninth; and senior Janelle Johnson is ranked 15th.

The team didn’t make it out of the Super Regional last May, but made up for it this year and lead a strong field for the May 16-19 event that includes third-ranked Dallas Baptist, fourth-ranked Barry and No. 8 Rollins. Individuals in the field include No.1 Paloma Vaccaro, a senior from West Florida, and No.12 Amanda Gartrell, a sophomore from Florida Southern.

The top three teams from the four NCAA Super Regionals as well as the top three individuals not on a qualifying team advance to the Championships.

Second-year Sharks coach Heather Wall played college golf at Nova Southeastern rival Florida State and has stressed the team aspect. Among other things, she makes sure each team member keeps a piece of rope in her yardage book to remind them to “hold the rope and never let go” for her teammates.

The Sharks are the team to beat coming in, but the field is top heavy with Dallas Baptist, Barry and Rollins.

It should be a great show.

 

 

 

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Walter will host The Night of Champions. Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images.

In 2014, Austin Walter rushed for 2,704 yards and 34 touchdowns as a senior at Crosby High School. Despite falling short of a state title, Walter was named District 19-4A MVP and finished his prep career with a little over 6,000 rushing yards on 613 carries (6,062 yds). Seven years later, Walter will be returning to his high school alma mater to give back to the community that laid the foundation for an NFL career as a member of the San Francisco 49ers.

"It's a blessing to be able to come from a small town and be one of the guys who made it out," Walter said. "Not a lot of people made it to the NFL or the NBA from Crosby High School. To be one of the first, it's an amazing feeling. It's a blessing and an honor."

On Thursday, April 15, Walter will host The Night of Champions to benefit the Crosby High School Booster Club from 6-9 p.m. The event will be a weight lifting competition at Crosby High School for student-athletes around the area to showcase their talents and abilities.

In addition to hosting a weight lifting showcase, Walter will also share his life teachings with student-athletes in attendance. Perseverance and not taking no for an answer will be one of the most vital messages the Crosby native will share with aspiring pro-athletes. It's the two virtues Walter has leaned on from little league football to the NFL. And as an undrafted prospect in 2019, it was that same morale that helped him outshine six other running backs during the 49ers rookie training camp that same year.

"Before I started playing football in high school, a lot of people thought I was too small," Walter said. "They thought because we played little league and not in middle school we would not make it in high school. My twin brother [Ashton Walter] and I did not listen to that. We just kept pushing forward."

"When I left Rice, people thought I was going to play in the Canadian league or AFF, and I did not take no for an answer. I believed in myself. And I believed in God. And if I can make it out of a small town like Crosby, anybody can make it...It's the mentality I've had my entire life of not quitting. I feel like that is what got me to the point I am at right now."

Whether their life goal is to play in the NFL or not, Walter's primary objective for The Night of Champions is to be an inspiration and show kids they can find success despite their environment. It is one of the things the former XFL running back (Dallas Renegades) wished he would have seen growing up in Crosby.

After graduating from Crosby High School, Walter went on to have a record-breaking collegiate career at Rice University. He became one of two players in school history to rush for over 1,500 yards (1,744 yds.) and 1,000 kick return yards (1,548 yds.) in four seasons with the Owls. In February, Walter signed a one-year contract extension to re-join the 49ers ahead of the 2021 NFL season.

Click here to learn more about The Night of Champions at Crosby High School or support Walter and the Crosby High School Booster Club.

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