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