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Women's Golf Continuing to Build Program Success Playing in NCAA Championship

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Katie Rose Higgins.jpegWomen's Golf begins play Wednesday in their second consecutive appearance in the NCAA Championship, their third appearance in four years. While Head Coach Kalen Anderson's squad has some veteran experience from last year's NCAA East Regional Championship win in Katie Burnett and Amanda Strang, the performance of three freshmen in this year's Regional propelled the Gamecocks on to the Championship round. Katie Rose Higgins (left), Suzie Lee, and Samantha Swinehart all put up solid scores to help the Gamecocks to a sixth-place finish in the Regional, qualifying them to advance.

"It bodes great for the future," said Anderson. "They really stepped up, I'm so proud of our freshmen. They're a big reason we're going to the NCAA Championship. ... Katie Rose played her steadiest golf in the Regional Championship, which was really key to our success. Sam and Suzie had a top-15 finish in the Regional Championship, that's big time golf right at the most important time of the season. They're going to gain a lot of confidence from that."

For their part the three freshmen are enjoying the ride and their first experience with the NCAA Tournament. With classes complete for the semester they are able to focus solely on golf and having fun as a team.

"It's exciting; it's a great opportunity, something that we work for all year," said Higgins. "I was happy to contribute to the team each day. I was happy with my progress emotionally and playing a steadier round of golf and not making any big numbers. There were some tough conditions, it was raining every day. We had to just keep going at it."

After the cold and rainy weather they experienced at the Regional near Seattle, the team is looking forward to going to College Station, Texas, for the Championship.

"It'll be exciting to compete for a national championship," said Swinehart. "It's a different tournament that I haven't experienced yet so I'm looking forward to going to Texas and having a good week."

One strength of this young group is their ability to bounce back from a bad shot or tough start, a mental skill one doesn't always see with freshmen. All three freshmen had a tough hole or two during the Regional, but were able to keep their composure and finish well.

"That's what some of my progress as a freshman has been," explained Higgins. "At the beginning of the year my heart would be racing and I'd be so flustered and emotionally distraught, but now just through the constant repetitions and being in the situations over and over again you realize it's golf and crazy things happen and you just move on to the next shot. It's over and done you just keep going and don't let it affect your next shot when there's still plenty of holes to make up for it."

Anderson focuses a lot on the mental aspects of the game and preparation for each shot and each hole. One of the keys to their success the past couple years has been peaking at the right time and coming up big when it matters the most at tournament time.

"We always hammer them on the wedge game and the short game. We do a lot of on-course practicing with that. They seem to embrace that. It takes awhile for them to understand the importance of it and to get comfortable with it," said Anderson. "We seem to peak at the right times with our short games and mental games. They've developed in terms of their strengths. They get comfortable in their pre-shot routines, which is one of the things we really worked on going into SEC's and Regionals. We're making sure we're seeing our shots and seeing good images before we hit our shots. We're committed on where we're going to land the ball and if we don't see good shots, to back off and make sure we see the positive image before we hit it. They did a great job with that going into SEC's and Regionals. The mental side of it is just so important because they have just as much physical talent as every other team."

Before coming to South Carolina in 2008, Anderson was an All-American and later an assistant coach at Duke University. As a player she was part of the team's first national championship and would be a part of two more as a coach. She has brought that championship mentality to South Carolina.
"I came from a championship program at Duke and my goal is to build a national championship program here. The more times we can get ourselves into position to contend for championships [by making the tournament], the more likely we'll have the ability to do that. I want to keep moving my program in the right direction and keep getting ourselves to the national championship. We still have a little ways to go but the more steps we're moving forward the closer we're getting. We're getting better and better every year and that's all I can ask for. We'll keep recruiting hard and if our freshmen keep stepping up the way they do then we're moving in the right direction."

Follow live scoring from the NCAA Championship today here. You can also follow along with @GamecockWGolf on Twitter.

- Brittany

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