GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (May 15, 2012) - If Oklahoma Christian's most recent golf tournament is any indication, the Lady Eagles could be a dark-horse contender to pull off what would be an improbable feat - winning a national title in the program's first season of existence.
OC finished second last month in the power-packed Sooner Athletic Conference Championship, just seven shots behind No. 1-ranked Oklahoma City University. That result boosted the Lady Eagles to a No. 10 ranking in the final NAIA coaches' poll heading into the NAIA Championship, which will start a four-day run Tuesday at Link Hills Country Club.
OC will tee off on the No. 10 hole starting at 1:20 p.m. EDT (12:20 p.m. CDT) in Tuesday's first round and at 8 a.m. EDT (7 a.m. CDT) on Wednesday. OC's golfers will be paired with their counterparts from Westminster (Utah) and Southwestern (Kan.) during the first two rounds.
The Lady Eagles haven't finished better than second in any tournament so far during their first season and aren't on the short list of favorites at nationals - which would include Oklahoma City, British Columbia, Lee (Tenn.), William Woods (Mo.) and Embry-Riddle (Fla.). But with a few breaks here or there, they certainly could contend, coach Greg Lynn said.
"The girls have been preparing hard, working hard on their games and practicing every day," Lynn said. "I expect us to make a good showing. Can I say we're going to compete for the title? Honestly, I don't really expect that, because we haven't won this year. It would be an upset. But we definitely can finish inside the top 10."
And if everything comes together for four straight days, would the Lady Eagles have a shot at winning?
"Absolutely," said Lynn, the SAC coach of the year.
OC is led by one of the nation's best players, Anna Arrese Cortadellas. The freshman from Barcelona, Spain, has posted individual wins this season in the Battle at Primm in Primm, Nev., and the SAC Championship, earning NAIA national player of the week honors both times. She is the only player to have received that award twice this spring.
Lynn said he would be surprised if Arrese doesn't contend for medalist honors at the national tournament as well. Having only played nine rounds as a collegian, Arrese doesn't have enough rounds to qualify for the Golfstat.com NAIA women's stroke-average rankings, but her 74.56 average would rank ahead of the top player on that list, Oklahoma City's Jessica Schiele (74.59).
"Anna can play well on almost any course," Lynn said. "Anna could run away with this thing. She's good enough that if she got on a hot streak, she could go out there and post four scores in the 60s."
If Arrese is at or near the top of the individual standings, it would bode well for the team's chances at contention, Lynn said.
"That makes a huge difference in your overall team score," Lynn said. "The other girls can draw from her strength."
Sarah Harper, Morgan Dockery and Catherine Odgers will fill the number two through four lineup positions for the Lady Eagles.
Dockery, a junior from Andrews, Texas, earned All-SAC honors with a sixth-place finish at the conference tournament and has two top-five finishes this spring along with a 79.88 stroke average.
Harper, a junior from Duncan who earned first-team junior-college All-America honors last year, has finished in the top 10 three times this spring and has a 77.71 stroke average, 14th on the Golfstat.com NAIA list. But Harper wants to rebound from what she called a poor putting outing while shooting 78-78 at the SAC tournament and finishing 14th.
Odgers, a sophomore from Victoria, Australia, finished 19th in the SAC tournament at Lincoln Park Golf Club's West Course in Oklahoma City and has an 81.0 stroke average.
Lynn said he wanted to wait until seeing the course setup to decide who will fill OC's No. 5 roster spot - either Courtney Stuever, a freshman from Washington, Okla., or Alyssa Schneider, a freshman from Broken Arrow.
The tournament will be played on a par-73 course in northeast Tennessee designed by World Golf Hall of Famer Robert Trent Jones Sr. and featuring numerous bunkers and hills.
Last year's team champion, California Baptist, isn't back this season after moving into NCAA Division II. The 2011 individual champion, Kylie Barros of British Columbia, does return. Her winning score last year was a 5-over-par 297.
Lynn said he wants his players to forget about who is doing what on the course and to focus on giving their best individual effort.
"I'm going to have the girls approach this as an individual event," Lynn said. "In a four-round tournament, when you enter as an individual, in order for you to do well, you have to play well all four days. That's why I'm trying to get the girls to look at it that way. They can take care of their own business.
"Golf is not a team sport. Now, there is a team aspect. To be successful, you have to be a team and be caring about each other and supportive of each other. But once you start off, it's about how you're playing. It's not about the person behind you or in front of you. It's all about you. That's where we need to be strong."