April 18, 2013
UPDATED WITH FRIDAY'S WEATHER DELAY INFORMATION
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The South Carolina women's golf team will open postseason play on Friday when it tees off in the first round of the SEC Championship in Birmingham, Ala. With the threat of severe weather in the Birmingham area, Friday's tee times have been delayed until 12 p.m. CDT.
The 54-hole event runs through Sunday at the par-72, 6,401-yard Founders Course at Greystone Golf Club. South Carolina head coach Kalen Harris has been pleased with the progress her team has made heading into the postseason after grinding through the third toughest schedule in the country according to Golfweek.
"The last two events we have really made the progress that I've been looking for," Harris said. "Everybody has stepped up their play. It hasn't necessarily been the low numbers that we've been looking for but it's been the consistency that we've been looking for. They've been putting up very solid numbers. From top to bottom, we've had very consistent play. That's definitely what we need to see heading into the postseason."
After shuffling the lineup this spring, Harris has decided to stick with the group that played solid golf on its way to a 13th-place finish in a loaded field at the PING ASU Invitational to close out the regular season. Freshman Sarah Schmelzel, junior Suzie Lee, senior Meredith Swanson, freshman Mary Fran Hillow and sophomore Justine Dreher will represent the Gamecocks in Birmingham. Lee, Swanson and Dreher are all making their second career trip to the SEC Championship.
Schmelzel has played a key role in Carolina's improved play this spring. She leads the team with a stroke average of 74.45, which ranks fifth among freshmen in the SEC, and is on pace to break South Carolina's school record for scoring average by a freshman. A native of Phoenix, Ariz., Schmelzel has finished in the top 20 twice, including a third-place showing at the Bryan National Collegiate that earned her SEC Freshman of the Week honors.
Lee has posted a stroke average of 75.43, which ranks second on the team. She has one top-20 finish this season, a tie for 17th showing at the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate. She finished tied for ninth at her only SEC Championship appearance in 2011. Swanson is making her seventh tournament appearance this season and has a stroke average of 78.13. At last season's SEC Championship, she finished in a tie for 46th. Dreher, who is third on the team with a stroke average of 75.73, has delivered a pair of top-20 performances this season. She finished tied for 12th in her SEC Championship debut a year ago. Hillow has put together a stroke average of 76.50 this season and has one top-20 finish, a tie for 18th showing at the UCF Challenge.
"Sarah Schmelzel has really been our leader in terms of the scores she has been putting up," Harris said. "She has really been leading the way for us, and we just need consistent golf behind her. Suzie Lee has been playing very well. Justine, Mary Fran and Meredith have all been playing pretty consistent golf. If they step up a little bit, we are going to be in really good shape."
The Gamecocks are making their 22nd appearance at the SEC Championship. Carolina won the program's only SEC title in 2002 in Athens, Ga., with a score of 861. Former All-American Kristy McPherson lifted Carolina to the title, claiming medalist honors with a score of 209. McPherson also won medalist honors at the 2001 SEC Championship with a championship-record total of 207 in Gainesville, Fla. The Gamecocks finished runner-up in 1995 in Franklin, Tenn., and have claimed third on four occasions.
South Carolina claimed sixth place at the 2012 SEC Championship at the Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, Ark. The Gamecocks wrapped up the weekend with a 54-hole total of 936 (+72). Former All-American Katie Burnett and Dreher led Carolina as they finished the tournament in a tie for 12th with a total of 230 (+14).
The SEC has become one of the most dominant women's golf conferences in the country. Eleven of the 14 teams in the conference are ranked in the Golfstat Top 50, including six in the Top 25. Second-ranked Alabama, the defending national champion, enters the week as the highest ranked team. No. 6 Arkansas, No. 7 Florida, No. 8 Vanderbilt, No. 18 Georgia, No. 24 Texas A&M, No. 31 LSU, No. 32 Tennessee, No. 34 Kentucky, No. 44 Auburn, Mississippi, Mississippi State and Missouri will join the No. 40 Gamecocks in Birmingham.
Alabama enters the week with a conference-high five tournament victories. Florida has won three events this season, and Texas A&M, Georgia, Kentucky and Arkansas each one tournament title. Georgia owns the record for most SEC titles with 11, followed by Auburn (9), Florida (8), South Carolina (1), LSU (1), Vanderbilt (1) and Alabama (1).
The Gamecocks will tee off in the first round on Friday beginning at 1:22 p.m. CDT. Carolina will be paired with Auburn and Mississippi. Live scoring will be available all three days through Golfstat.
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