College Notebook: Why Indy's D1 win gave D2 golf reason to cheer, plus a look at Charlotte's new program

The Indy women, with coach Brent Nicoson (left), have won their first two tournaments of the season. Photo courtesy of Nicoson.

The Indy women, with coach Brent Nicoson (left), have won their first two tournaments of the season. Photo courtesy of Nicoson.

The rest of the country reacts much differently to an NCAA Division II program winning a Division I-dominant tournament than the team itself does. That’s perhaps the perspective shift that should come from the University of Indianapolis’ victory this week at the Ball State Cardinal Classic.

“It wasn’t a big deal to them,” Indy head coach Brent Nicoson said a day after the tournament. “It didn’t feel record-setting. They were there to do a job and win a tournament.”

Big-picture wise, it is a big deal, but the Hounds are feeding off Nicoson’s calm. He returned every player from last season’s NCAA third-place team and two players remain from 2015’s national-title lineup which “goes a long way in not thinking things are too big,” Nicoson explained. There were 18 teams in the Ball State field, and all but Indy were Division I. At 1-under 863 for 54 holes, Nicoson’s team won by a staggering 13 shots. That team score is 12 shots better than the school’s previous 54-hole record, set last year at the NCAA Division II East Super Regional.

Indy’s competitive rise since Nicoson took over the women’s team in 2011 is marked (he began coaching Indy’s men in 2006).  When Nicoson got there, Indy players didn’t believe they belonged with Division I competition. Knowing they now do is a game-changer. Nicoson could not stress enough how little his players dwelled on divisions this week -- both pre- and post-tournament.

“That’s how they go about every tournament,” he said. “They don’t look ahead or act boastful about anything they do.”

One through five, this team hits the ball a long way. Better yet, as Nicoson said, “We hit greens at all costs.” Indy players are putting their program on the map in all the right ways. Sophomore Pilar Echevarria qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur in August and senior Kylie Raines qualified for the 2015 Women’s Am. To have a Hounds bag on the grounds at the country’s premier women’s amateur event two of the past three years is like advertising you just can’t buy.

The golf community is beginning to recognize Indy as a women’s golf school – so much so that Nicoson is recruiting against Division I schools now more than he is Division II schools. Indy talent used to be regional. Now, Nicoson can draw a player like Echeverria, a native of Guatemala who played on her country’s national squad and has legitimate hopes for an LPGA career someday soon.

Recruiting is one of the reasons Nicoson enters tournaments like the one at Ball State. Nicoson likes the extra challenge, but it’s also a good lure for prospective student-athletes who have their heart set on a Division I college-golf experience.

“Some people think Division I is a higher level than Division II,” Nicoson said. “That’s not the case. It depends on what program you’re at.”

Before Ball State, Indy also won its own UIndy Invitational to start the season. That was a 15-team field of the top Division II talent in the Midwestern region. Next up? Another Division I field at Butler’s home event. In the spring, Nicoson will take his team to Ohio State’s tournament for the fourth time. Once again, they’ll go in with little thought about who’s in what division and play to win.

“Our players, that’s their expectation,” Nicoson said. “That’s what I love about them.”

College golf is a small, close-knit community, and that’s evidenced by the willingness of Division I programs to invite a team from a lower division into top tournaments. Nicoson said he frequently turns to Ohio State head coach Therese Hession and Duke head coach Dan Brooks for coaching advice. Nicoson’s Division II peers recognize what he’s doing for the sport in his own way.

“We’ve had several D-2 coaches reach out and say (the Ball State win) helps them out,” Nicoson said.

One small step for college golf, one giant step for Indy.

#collegegolf tweet of the week


Preparing early

The Universities of Michigan and Wisconsin have started a very practical September tradition with their co-hosted East & West Match Play event. This marked the fourth year running for the event, played this year for the third time at Radrick Farms Golf Course in Madison, Mich., which will also host an NCAA Women’s Regional this spring.

Eight teams started the tournament (Oregon, Iowa State, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State, UC Davis, Wisconsin and Oregon State) with 36-hole stroke-play qualifying. The teams were seeded and two rounds of matches followed. Only Iowa State and Oregon State won both. Iowa State was the big winner with a 4-1 defeat of Wisconsin and a 3-2 victory over Ohio State. That’s the first win for the Cyclones since the beginning of the 2012. Iowa State has never played NCAA Championship match play, and in fact hasn’t made it to the championship since match play was added in 2015. Perhaps here’s some foreshadowing.

Wisconsin and Michigan have the right idea with this tournament, and it’s a format that allows for a lot of golf. It also drives home some important points. This from Oregon head coach Ria Scott: “Overall, it was a great week of golf for the Ducks. If we added up the stroke play scores from the four rounds, I think we'd have Kathleen (Scavo) at 13 under, and Alexis (Phadungmartvorakul) at 6 under. This really reinforces that it takes a great team effort to earn a match play win.”

Information from Oregon Athletics used in this report.

Schooner hits the big stage

The weekend’s premiere event, the Schooner Fall Classic, will be televised on Monday Sept. 5. Fox Sports Southwest and Fox College Sports Pacific will carry the Sooner Sports TV broadcast for two and a half hours Monday afternoon from Belmar Golf Club in Norman., OKla., which marks the first time that the Sooner station has televised a live women’s golf event. The channels reach a reported 60 million homes.

Televised golf is becoming the trend at Oklahoma, and cheers to the school for that commitment. Back in April, Sooner Sports TV also televised The Maxwell, Oklahoma’s men’s event, at Oak Tree Country Club in Edmond, Okla.

Sooner Sports TV will use its own personality, Chad McKee, for the broadcast in addition to Stephanie Brecht and former Oklahoma golfer Kaitlyn Rohrback.

The cameras will cover holes 13, 15, 17, 17 and 18 as the leading teams are coming down the final stretch. Let’s hope for some drama.

Tournament I’m Watching

Schooner Fall Classic (#schooner17)

Field: Alabama, Baylor, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Miami, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas State, Tulsa, UCF, Washington

Storyline: I’m interested to see what Washington does in its season opener and also how Alabama follows up its runner-up at Mason Rudolph (which was an impressive finish that got lost in headlines about Arkansas’ NCAA record-tying victory). The Crimson Tide could get that win this week. Also noteworthy: Oklahoma (runner-up at the Jim West Challenge) and Texas A&M (winner of the Lady Maxwell) continue their seasons this week with promising squads. Most disappointing is that Texas still doesn’t have its two best players in the lineup (Sophia Schubert and Agathe Laisne) in its second start.

Q&A with Charlotte head coach Holly Clark...

Clark has spent the past two years getting a women's golf program started at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. The 49ers debuted last week at the Mason Rudolph Championship, which held some sentimental value

What’s the process of getting a college golf program off the ground really like? Maybe something from the outside we wouldn’t think about.

I don’t know that there is one right way to do this. People kept saying, you have a blank canvas to work with and you can do whatever you want. In my mind, I’m like, “Don’t mess it up.” You can’t mess it up because it’s all an experiment. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been with a program, every year you’ve got a new team with a different dynamic. There were certain things that I knew about starting a program at Carson-Newman that I wanted to instill in our program. . . . A big part of it was creating the right culture and making sure that I brought in the right people. Not just talented golfers, but the right people that could see my vision and want to be a part of something new and exciting….Not everyone want to be a part of something new, they want to be a part of something established. It’s got to be for the right person. For a year and a half, I’ve spent a ton of time figuring out what was important to me and why I really love what I do and what I wanted to instill in my players and what I wanted this program to be known for. We’re all here to obviously go out and try to compete and win but I think break it down even more, you just want to be the best “you” you can be every single day. If you win, that’s a great bonus. At the end of the day, you really want your kids to be well-equipped to play good golf. . . . Being a mom has really changed my approach to coaching, probably calmed me down in a good way. There’s no right way to do this. You just figure it out.

You get to put your own mark on this program, starting it from the ground up. What do you want that to be?

I want people to see a team that can play and compete but I want girls that are going to be disciplined, work hard, be prepared and take every advantage of every opportunity that they’re given and not take things for granted. I want these girls to be grateful for the fact that they can go out and play golf and be a part of something unique and special and realize that they have resources, use them. Do something great with the opportunities you have in front of you.

I have two morning practices a week and I incorporate a 10-15 minute lesson. We did one on sleep study and the importance of getting sleep. I have six freshmen who have never done this before but if I can give them this information now at least they have a heightened awareness of this three-hour sleep stuff is not going to cut it. . . . Things like wearing sunscreen and we’re going to do one on how we wash our clothes. They’re going to live in apartments next year so we’re going to talk about going to the grocery store and picking out the right foods on a budget. I think it also gives them confidence. These girls, you think they’re confident people, they’re not. When you have confident girls, you have more confident players who sometimes produce better results.

Your first start was sort of symbolic because you spent six years coaching under Greg Allen at Vanderbilt. What’s it like to bring your own team back there and have that be the start of your program?

It was so cool. It makes me emotional thinking about it. Nashville, I had six very big growing years during that time as a coach, as a person. I got married, became a mom and a coach. That was a great stretch of years and I miss it dearly. When the time is right, you know you have to move on and do different things. It brought back memories, I was able to see familiar faces, it was so nice to see familiarity. I grew up playing golf in Tennessee so I spent a lot of time playing at Vanderbilt Legends club. Going back brings wonderful memories all the time. One of (the girls) is from Nashville and that was really cool for her. We were paired the first round with Arizona State. Nothing like playing with the national champions your first round. It was so good for my girls because they realized we can hang with these people, we just have a lot of clean-up to do around the greens…I think it gave them confidence knowing they’re a little bit better but there’s not so much separation that it’s not doable.

Charlotte is a golf-centric city. What do you think is your best draw to this program?

We’re adding on right now (to our golf facilities). They really have taken good care of us and they want to do this the right way. Charlotte is a great place for golf. The courses are unbelievable. We just hosted the PGA Champ on one course we play, all the courses are that good. We’re in a golf world that people really don’t know about. Our school is growing, it’s beautiful, it’s a wonderful school. Our men’s program has had a lot of success. I think that will be very helpful. I had to go see it for the first time to really believe it. When I did, I thought how come nobody knows about this place…I’m really fortunate, I think our girls are really fortunate and I think they see that.