Sandestin, Fla.--The 11th-ranked Carleton College women's golf team finished what it started at the Golfweek Division III Fall Preview, closing with a final-round 324 to finish ninth overall at 1,008.
The Knights, who opened the 14-team event with a disastrous 357, posted the day's fifth-lowest score. That followed Monday's second-round comeback where the Knights knocked 30 shots off their first day score. Carleton passed Piedmont College (N.C.) in the final round after trailing the Lions by two shots entering Tuesday's round, ending up eight shots clear of them.
Sophomore Kelsey Moede (Lake Oswego, Ore.) fired a six-over par 78, finishing at 242 and move inside the top 20 in a tie for 14th, while classmate Taylor Wells (Rochester, Minn./Century) somehow managed to shot 79 and end at 246. Grace Gilmore (Fy./Edina, Minn.) added another solid day of play, finishing nine-over par 81, while Mara Daly (Fy./St. Louis Park, Minn.) used a solid short game to set a new collegiate career low of 86.
"Again, I was so proud of our attitude, mental strength and positive energy," Carleton head coach Eric Sieger said. "Of course, we're wishing we could take a mulligan on that first-day score, but I think we showed lots of people, and more importantly ourselves, that we're a very strong team despite the adversity we faced this week."
That adversity was the fact that the Knights were missing sophomore Gina Kabasakalis (Alameda, Calif./College Prep), who holds Carleton's second-lowest stroke average this season. The two-time All-MIAC performer had to return home to tend to a personal matter, but the Knights soldiered on despite missing her presence immensely.
"Sometimes life takes precedence over golf, and this was definitely one of those times," Sieger said. "I was so proud of our team for coming together like they did, and especially for Mara and Grace to step up and perform like they did bodes well for us moving into the spring season."
The Knights got off to another good start, again teeing off the back nine of the Baytowne Golf Club layout. Moede offset an early bogey on the 10th hole by jamming in a 20-foot birdie on the tough par-3 14th hole and turned in two-over par after bogeys on the 16th and the 18th. Wells fired a 39 on her first nine holes, while Gilmore turned in five-over par and Daly eight over par.
The Knights kept the momentum going on the final nine holes. Moede, after a bogey on number one and a double bogey on the short par-3 third, played the final six holes in over-over par. Wells, who was one-over par through her first six holes before making five straight bogeys, was only one over on the final seven holes, breaking 80 for the second straight day despite having less than her "A" game in the ball-striking department. Gilmore bogeyed the first two holes on her second nine, made three pars followed by two more bogeys, but finished with great pars on the very difficult eighth and ninth holes.
Daly, though, was really the story in the final nine holes. Knowing the Knights would use her score, the rookie played the first seven holes on her second nine in two-over par, highlighted by a near chip-in on the sixth and a near-miss for birdie on the seventh. Unfortunately, the tough eighth and ninth holes nipped Daly in the form of a pair of double bogeys, but it was still a career best for her.
"I thought Mara, out of everyone on our squad, really benefited and grew from this week's experience," Sieger said. "She was very nervous and timid on Sunday's first round, but she settled in those last two rounds and played the type of golf we know she can."
No. 1 Methodist rallied from eights shots back to win the team title at 922. No. 8 Mary Hardin-Baylor, the leader after the first and second round, ended at 928, one clear of No. 2 Washington University, which used a final-round 305 to finish third. No. 10 Illinois Wesleyan finished fourth at 965, two ahead of No. 3 Centre. Southwestern, ranked 19th, ended sixth at 974 after a final-round 320, while No. 14 Allegheny struggled a bit on Tuesday, posting a 336 to end at 996 and finish seventh. Carleton's 1,008 total was a mere four shots behind No. 15 Birmingham Southern for eighth place.
The 54-hole event caps Carleton's fall season, its best in school history. The Knights recorded their first win in eight seasons, capturing the College City Challenge, and ended second at two other events, including their runner-up MIAC Championships finish. The spring season starts in approximately four months, and the Knights are in the mix for an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships, held at this same site in mid-May.
"It's definitely our goal to come back down here in May and compete at nationals," Sieger said. "The ladies are very motivated by that goal, and I think our fall has put us in a position where that is a realistic goal."