Several times in recent years the last thing the Trevecca Nazarene women’s golf team did was finish first at the TranSouth championship.
This year, thanks in part to changes in how the NAIA filled its championship field, the Lady Trojans’ latest first-place finish has led to another series of firsts.
Collectively, they will play in the NAIA national championship tournament for the first time in program history. Also, the fact that this year’s event will be contested at Meadowbrook Municipal Golf Course in Rapid City, S.D. makes this the first time they ever will compete so far from home.
For one team member, senior Brooke Dillehay, it also led to her first time in an airplane.
“That was a little bit of an adventure,” coach Michael Johnson said. “But she did fine.”
How the team fares at the 15th annual event will be determined over four days of competition, which begins Tuesday. The field of 28 will be pared to the top 17 teams and 40 individuals after three rounds.
“This is a little bit like Belmont playing Duke in the first round of the NCAA (basketball) tournament,” Johnson said. “People don’t have very high expectations for us, but if all of our players perform the way they’re capable, we’ll be competitive.”
The NAIA adopted an approach similar to that of the NCAA basketball tournament when it came to setting the field for this year’s event. Rather than the regional qualifying format used in previous years, it decided instead to extend automatic invitations to conference champions.
The result is a field that included 21 of the top 25 teams in the NAIA rankings. Trevecca will play the first two rounds with British Columbia and Savannah Arts and Design.
“I do like it, and for reasons beyond our being able to qualify,” Johnson said. “The NAIA and the coaches placed a premium on conference and conference affiliation. I’m sure that had a negative effect on some schools … but I think we have a terrific field.”
Thus, Trevecca’s fifth conference championship — it won by a single stroke — resulted in the first appearance in the national championship field.
The Lady Trojans have just four players — Dillehay, juniors Alyssa Moe and Betsy Beaver and freshman Ashley Birdwell — which means they has no margin for error. Most teams have five players and count the top scores.
Of course, it’s been that way all season, so in that respect this tournament is nothing different. Among its other accomplishments, this year’s Trevecca team set the program record for lowest score in a 36-hole tournament.
“All of our players have played well at times,” Johnson said. “We still have not put together four solid rounds all at the same time. So we don’t know yet just how good we can be.”
Maybe this time will be the first.