The SEC Women’s Golf Championships begins this Wednesday in Birmingham, and the Commodores have some crucial momentum after winning the Brickyard Collegiate last week.
“I think anytime you’ve got momentum on your side, it just gives you a chance to go and play really well,” said coach Greg Allen.
Vanderbilt, which is ranked No. 25 in nation, took home both team and individual honors, as freshman Morgan Baxendale placed first out of 78 golfers in the field. Baxendale shot a 3-under 213 over three rounds and won SEC Freshman of the Week honors for her performance.
“That girl doesn’t slow down, doesn’t stop,” said Allen of Baxendale. “And she’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around in my 20 years of coaching.”
Sophomore Abbey Carlson and freshman Louise Yu tied for fourth place at 3-over 219.
Even with an impressive showing at the Brickyard, Allen thinks this team still has room to get better and reach their potential.
Carlson leads the team with a stroke average of 73.04 and Baxendale is close behind with an average of 73.33. Louise Yu’s average of 73.52 and Courtney Zeng’s 73.54 average are also remarkable.
The sophomore has improved the most in the past year, taking almost a stroke and a half off her average.
“Her ball striking is unbelievable,” Allen said of Carlson. “But I would say the biggest thing for Abbey is that her chipping has improved.”
The SEC Championships have a different format this year. In addition to the traditional 54 holes of stroke play, the conference championship will now feature a second round in which the top eight teams from stroke play compete in match play for up to three additional rounds.
Allen said, “I’m excited about the possibility of match play. It mirrors the national championship now, and it mirrors what the guys do.”
While the team has not played in match play in any tournaments this season, Allen emphasized that they play matches in practice, and match play is very common on the summer amateur tours.
Greystone Golf and Country Club hosts the tournament on its Legacy course.
Carlson, who played the course at last year’s SEC Championships, said, “it’s a course that all around tests your game, but you’re rewarded for good shots.”
The competition will be tough, as Arkansas and Alabama are both top-five teams and South Carolina, Florida, and Auburn are also fellow top-25 teams.
This team’s chemistry could play a factor in keeping the Commodores loose in a competitive and pressure-packed tournament.
“This is probably one of the best teams I’ve had in terms of chemistry in a really long time,” said Allen, who has coached 11 seasons at Vanderbilt after leading Arizona’s squad for seven years.
Carlson said, “Our team just all around gels really well. Last tournament, we all got ice cream after a round and just sat and talked in the van for 20 minutes.”
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Two years after releasing “The Marshall Mathers LP,” rapper Eminem came back with a vengeance with a single entitled “Without Me.”
It’s unclear if that song is on Vanderbilt Baseball’s pregame playlist, but perhaps it should be, because the VandyBoys are back, and you should tell a friend.
After losing their sixth game in a row in the series opener against the Georgia Bulldogs, the young Commodores successfully regrouped and won two straight to claim the series. They used a three-run inning and some stellar relief pitching from Chandler Day to claim a 5-3 win on Saturday before putting together a decisive 8-3 victory on Sunday.
Enough consecutive losses can weigh on players’ minds, especially younger players. Head Coach Tim Corbin said the emotion was on display this weekend as Vanderbilt tried to get back on track.
“I thought they handled it well,” Corbin said. “I think the emotion stemmed from I think Thursday night was a tough loss. They felt like they had something in their hand and it got taken out. That can happen, but the only way you take care of that is by responding well the next day. They did, they played pretty well yesterday and to come out with one round apiece, win the last round.”
“They’re kids, they feel the effects of not having success on the scoreboard over the course of two weeks. Going back to Lipscomb, the Florida series, and the tough game in Murfreesboro on Tuesday night, and then a tough game on Thursday. So yeah, I’m sure they were emotional because they care. It’s good for them to walk out of here with a series win.”
The series win could not come at a more opportune time for Vanderbilt. The Commodores have lost three consecutive mid-week games, including last Tuesday’s controversial seven-inning loss to Middle Tennessee State. In the middle of all of those losses, they traveled to Florida to take on the top-ranked Gators and were swept handily. Their closest loss in that series was by four runs, with the two other losses coming by eight and six runs.
Follow that up with a performance on Thursday in which the team blew a 2-0 lead and stranded two runners in scoring position with one out, and it seemed Vanderbilt’s confidence was shot. Some players lingered around the dugout by themselves on Thursday for long after Corbin made his postgame remarks and met with the media.
The Commodores had two choices: sink or swim. And they swam like sharks.
“It’s a big confidence-builder for all of us,” Day said after Saturday’s game. “We had a six-game losing streak and had the opportunity to go out there and do my job and I was fortunate enough to get us through the rest of the game and save the bullpen for tomorrow and get us back into the win column. Definitely a confidence-booster for all of us.”
They started with a bang on Saturday and finished it off with a statement victory on Sunday. Their hit parade in the fifth inning gave them the lead, but it was a home run by catcher Stephen Scott that put an exclamation point on the win.
“It’s huge,” Scott said after Sunday’s clincher. “We had a lot of emotion coming into this game, and so it really just propelled us forward. I think we’re looking to keep on that track.”
The Commodores have a number of reasons to believe in themselves. They can steal bases like few teams can with plenty of speedsters on the roster. They also have a number of players that can step into many different roles. Sophomore Harrison Ray and freshman Austin Martin played multiple positions over this series. Veteran Julian Infante did not even play in the last two games of the series.
With that much depth and potential lineup combinations, some younger players will get some playing time and continue to grow. If they’re feeling it again, the rest of the SEC should watch out, because a confident Vanderbilt squad is a scary Vanderbilt squad.
“They’re all good players, and I think they want an opportunity to play,” Corbin said. “You can’t play them all, but I just think a lot of teams have depth in this conference. We’re fortunate that we’ve got some young kids that are able to compete this early, because that’s difficult to do. Some of them probably shouldn’t be on the field if we had normal depth in the senior and junior class, but we gave them the opportunity to play and they’re taking advantage of it.”
“Hopefully they’re better at the end of the year than they are right now. I think any time they’ve stepped in, whether it’s Cooper Davis or Harrison Ray, and gotten the chance to play, they’ve responded pretty well.”
The first step in keeping the momentum going comes on Tuesday when they take on Western Kentucky.
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