LAKELAND – The 20th annual Lady Moc Classic gets underway Monday morning at Grasslands Golf and Country Club where 17 schools and more than a dozen individuals will compete in three rounds over two days in a tournament that annually draws some of the best Division II women's golf programs in the country. The first two rounds are Monday, with play beginning at 8 a.m., and the final round is Tuesday, also starting at 8 a.m.
All three rounds will have a shotgun start, and round two begins immediately after the conclusion of round one on Monday. First- and second-round pairings are pre-determined, and the final-round pairings for Tuesday will be set according to the team standings. The four lowest scores for each team count toward the team scores in each round. Golfers who are not competing as part of their respective team lineups are still eligible for the individual title.
All 11 schools from the Sunshine State Conference will be participating this year, and most of those will also be sending individuals. Joining them will be UNC Pembroke and Flagler from the Peach Belt Conference, West Florida and Montevallo from the Gulf South Conference, Limestone from Conference Carolinas, and junior college national runner-up Seminole State of Florida. Nine of the 12 teams that qualified for last year's NCAA Super Region 2 Tournament will be in attendance, led by 2017 regional and national champion Barry. Rollins also reached the national finals in 2017 after finishing as the regional runner-up.
Four of the top six, seven of the top 13, and nine of the top-25 teams in the final fall Golfstat rankings are playing in this week's tournament. That list is topped by No. 2 Nova Southeastern, No. 4 Saint Leo, No. 5 Barry, and No. 6 Lynn. Rollins is No. 10, Tampa is No. 11, and Florida Southern is ranked No. 13. The other two top-25 teams are No. 23 Limestone and No. 24 Flagler.
In addition to many of the nation's best teams, several of the best individual players at the D-II level will be competing in the Lady Moc Classic, including West Florida senior No. 1 Paloma Vaccaro, and Barry junior No. 2 Tilda Larsson. Saint Leo's Amanda Jakobsson, Rollins' Seher Atwal, and Nova Southeastern's Michelle Ruiz are ranked sixth through eighth, giving the tournament five of the top eight golfers in Division II. Five others are ranked in the top-25, including Florida Southern sophomore Amanda Gartrell who is No. 23.
All 17 schools have played in at least one previous Lady Moc Classic, and the field is nearly identical to that of the 2017 tournament. The only change from last year has Florida Tech returning after a two-year absence to replace Armstrong State, which discontinued athletics following its consolidation with Georgia Southern University. Florida Tech is still a familiar foe, however, as the Panthers have played in 11 previous Lady Moc Classics. Two teams (Florida Southern and Lynn) have played in the tournament every year since its inception, and Rollins has played in all but the first two.
This is the fifth year in a row the Lady Moc Classic is being played at Grasslands. The par-72 course covers 6,085 yards, with holes ranging from the 110-yard, par-3 No. 10, to the 511-yard, par-5 No. 18. The club was established in 1990, and also hosted the Florida Southern men's golf tournament, the Matlock Collegiate Classic, from 2000-07.
Schools from the Sunshine State Conference have dominated the Lady Moc Classic by winning 15 of the previous 18 tournaments that have been played. (One Lady Moc Classic was completely rained out.) The only three non-SSC teams to win this tournament are North Carolina State in 2002, Washington State in 2003, and Seminole State in 2012. Rollins has won the most titles with six, most recently in 2015, and Florida Southern and Nova Southeastern have each won three. Lynn has captured the Lady Moc Classic twice, with those titles coming in 2014 and 2016.
Barry won last year's Lady Moc Classic, giving the Buccaneers their first title in 16 appearances. Their previous best finish was fourth, which the Bucs had accomplished four times. It was one of five tournament victories for Barry last season, with two of the others coming in the NCAA regional and national tournaments. The Bucs return three players from the team that won the national championship, led by Larsson, a 2-time First Team All-American who has two top-10 finishes at the Lady Moc Classic in her career.
Last year's Lady Moc Classic saw the top four teams separated by eight shots, with Barry (895), Saint Leo (898), Rollins (900) and Florida Southern (903) in those positions. Six schools had at least one round under 300, and the Moccasins' total score which put them fourth would have put them either first or second in 12 previous Lady Moc Classics.
The individual race was just as competitive as Saint Leo's Marie Coors and Seminole State's Tuan-Yu Chiang tied for first as the first golfers to ever break par in the tournament. They each finished at two-under par 214 when both of them shot in the 60s in round three. Chiang took home the individual trophy based on a match-of-cards tie-breaker that saw her out-shoot Coors by three strokes over the final three holes. It marked the fourth time in the last seven years two golfers finished the tournament tied for first. Coors has graduated, but Chiang returns after earning All-American honors last year with an eighth-place finish at the NJCAA national tournament.
Other top returners include Florida Southern's Amanda Gartrell, who placed third with an even-par 216 that tied the previous Lady Moc scoring record. Tilda Larsson placed fourth for Barry with a 217 following an eighth-place finish two years ago. The 2016 individual champion and runner-up are back as well, with Lynn senior Jenny Ayala finishing five strokes ahead of Rollins senior Lexie Toth that year. No one has ever won two Lady Moc individual titles.
Florida Southern has won its own tournament in 1999 (fall of '98), 2007 and 2008, and finished as the runner-up five times, most recently in 2012. The Moccasins have also had three individual champions, the last being Marianne Andersson in 2008. The other two are Pamela Feggans in 2004, and Lisa Cave in 1999 (fall of '98).
The Moccasins come into the Lady Moc Classic having won back-to-back tournaments for the first time since February of 2011 and have a dual match victory over the University of Kentucky squeezed in between them. They're coming off a first-place finish in the Barton Invitational at Kiawah Island on February 4 in which they defeated 15 other teams and had four of the top 10 golfers in the tournament. They also had four top-10 finishers in the Newberry Invitational to close out the fall semester.
The only Moccasin to play in all seven events this season is Gartrell, who leads the team with a 75.07 stroke average and five top-five finishes. Only once has she placed lower than ninth, with that coming in the Battle at Old South in September where she placed 21st out of 95. Her third-place finish at the Barton Invitational two weeks ago was her best of the season, which matched her career-best finish from last year's Lady Moc Classic.
Junior Tori Higgins is second on the team with a 76.58 stroke average after tying for eighth in the Barton Invitational for her fifth top-10 finish of the season. Though Gartrell has been in the top-five more times, Higgins has the Mocs' best individual finish, taking second place in the 57-player Lady Falcon Invitational in September. Seven of her 12 rounds have been at 75 or better.
Senior Abbey Williams and freshman Ashley Zagers have nearly identical stroke averages (77.30 to 77.27), though Williams has the better individual winning percentage (.769) based on her finishes in the four tournaments and one dual match she's played. She's coming off a 10th-place finish in South Carolina and has been lower than 16th only once in her last seven tournaments dating back to last year. Zagers has been in the top-10 of three tournaments plus the Kentucky match this season, was tied with Higgins for eighth place at the Barton Invitational, and ended the fall with a third-place showing at Newberry.
Completing Florida Southern's lineup is freshman Shelby Lewis, who will be playing in her first Lady Moc Classic. Lewis' 77.90 stroke average is just behind Zagers and Williams and would be the best for a fifth golfer in the last seven years. She played in four fall tournaments as an individual, finishing as high as seventh, but this will be Lewis' first appearance in the team lineup outside of the dual match against Kentucky in January.
Playing in the Lady Moc Classic as individuals will be senior sophomore Victoria Cangero, junior Madison Wetzel, and senior Kolby McWilliams. Cangero did not play in the most recent tournament in South Carolina but closed out the fall with a career-best eighth-place finish at Newberry. She has three top-20 tournament finishes this year after doing that in three out of five tournaments as a freshman. Wetzel was Florida Southern's top golfer in the Lady Moc Classic two years ago when she tied for eighth, and she tied for 17th last year. McWilliams played in two tournaments during the fall, and in her final round of the semester, tied her career-best score with a 74 at the Saint Leo Invitational. Her first 74 came in the Lady Moc Classic two years ago when she was 28th out of 94 golfers.