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SMC Golf: Saint Mary’s seeks tournament berth

Jack Hefferon | Friday, April 15, 2011

No. 9 Saint Mary’s will need to repeat history if it hopes to win an MIAA playoff berth and automatically qualify for another NCAA tournament.

The Belles competed Thursday in Marshall, Mich. in the first round of the MIAA NCAA qualifier, a tournament in which they have a history of success. Last year, they overcame a deficit after shooting a first round 333, winning the tournament by eight strokes over Olivet College. That win automatically qualified Saint Mary’s for the NCAA championships, where it posted an impressive fourth place finish.

This year, the Belles once again find themselves in an early deficit in the tournament. With another opening score of 333, they sit in second place, twelve strokes behind first round leader Olivet. While Saint Mary’s script may be setting itself up in the same fairy tale fashion, Belles senior captain Mary Kate Boyce said she would rather not play the underdog again.

“Everyone played just about average today,” Boyce said. “But in a qualifier like this, that’s not going to be good enough. There was a little wind out there, but conditions were fine, and now we’ll have to play from behind.”

Part of the reason for the Comets’ successful 321 first round was their familiarity with the course. The nearly 7,000-yard host site, The Medalist Golf Club, has been Olivet’s home course for years. Boyce, however, refused to accept “home-field advantage” as an excuse.

“It’s their home course, but we’ve played there a couple of times, as well,” Boyce said. “We both played pretty consistently today, they were just consistently a little better.”

Despite the seemingly bleak outlook, there were several bright spots for the Belles. One such highlight was the outstanding play of junior Natalie Matuszak. Her 9-over-par 81 was the second best individual score in the entire tournament.

Even more promising for the Belles is the fact that they will return to their home course, Blackthorne Golf Club, for the final two rounds of the qualifier from April 29-30. With a familiar eighteen holes ahead and another two weeks to prepare, the Belles believe they have an opportunity to take the lead and qualify for the NCAA championships once again.

“I like our chances to rally at home,” Boyce said. “We need to get after it in practice, and then we need to get a lead on that first day. Everyone’s going to have to cut out a few more strokes, but I think that we have a great shot if we can get that good start.”