LAKELAND – The Florida Southern women's golf team will be hosting the 21st annual Lady Moc Classic this Monday and Tuesday at Grasslands Golf and Country Club where 17 schools will compete in one of the country's most recognized NCAA Division II tournaments. The Lady Moc Classic features two rounds on Monday beginning at 8 a.m., and one round on 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. Several teams will also have additional golfers competing as individuals. Florida Southern will be playing with Flagler and Tampa in the first two rounds and teeing off holes 11, 12, and 13 as a team, with Moccasin individuals starting on 17 and 18.
For the second year in a row, all 11 schools from the Sunshine State Conference will be competing, and six other teams representing the Gulf South Conference (West Florida and Montevallo), Peach Belt Conference (UNC Pembroke and Flagler), Conference Carolinas (Limestone), and the Lone Star Conference (Western New Mexico) join them. The 17-team field is nearly identical to that of last year, with Western New Mexico replacing Seminole State as the only newcomer. It's the first time in nine years Seminole State has not participated, while the Mustangs of Western New Mexico return for the first time since 2008.
This year also marks the second year in a row the Lady Moc Classic has brought back nine of the 12 teams that qualified for the previous year's NCAA Super Region 2 Tournament. That includes regional champion Barry, runner-up Rollins, and third-place Nova Southeastern, all of whom advanced to the national finals, as well as Florida Southern, Lynn, and Saint Leo, which completed the top half of the 2018 Super Region 2 final standings.
Nine of the 17 teams playing in this year's Lady Moc Classic finished the fall portion of the season ranked in the WGCA Division II National Poll, including four of the top-10. Leading that group are No. 3 Nova Southeastern, No. 4 Barry, No. 5 Rollins, and No. 10 Florida Southern. The other nationally ranked teams are No. 12 Limestone, No. 13 Lynn, No. 18 Florida Tech, No. 21 Saint Leo, and No. 22 Tampa. Flagler and West Florida are receiving votes in the national poll.
Among the top players competing are Golfstat's No. 1 ranked individual, senior Sophie Madden of Nova Southeastern, No. 4 ranked junior Kiira Riihijarvi of Tampa, junior Seher Atwal of Rollins who is ranked No. 6, and senior Tilda Larsson of Barry, the reigning Super Region 2 champion who is ranked No. 9. Larsson, Atwal, and Riihijarvi all finished in the top-10 at the 2018 Division II National Finals, and Larsson was selected as the WGCA National Player-of-the-Year.
As many as 14 of the top-30, and 21 of the top-50 individuals in the Golfstat ranking could be playing at Grasslands this week, a list that includes Florida Southern senior Tori Higgins, junior Amanda Gartrell, and freshman Loren Perez.
This is the sixth year in a row the Lady Moc Classic is being played at Grasslands Golf and Country Club. 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 previously 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 16 of the previous 19 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, Nova Southeastern won its fourth title last year, and Florida Southern has won three, most recently in 2008. Lynn has captured the Lady Moc Classic twice (2014 and '16), and Barry has done so once (2017).
Nova Southeastern won last year's Lady Moc Classic by setting a new tournament scoring record with a +13 (877). The Sharks defeated Saint Leo by four shots, with the Lions' runner-up score of +17 the third lowest in tournament history. With Seminole State at +28 and Flagler at +32, it marked the first time four teams broke 900 in a single Lady Moc Classic, and Nova Southeastern was only the third team with three sub-300 rounds. Even the Sharks did not have the best single round in the tournament though. That belonged to Saint Leo, which shot a record-setting 283 (-5) in round two and out-shot Nova in both the second and third rounds.
Larsson, who is a three-time First Team All-American, blew away the older Lady Moc individual scoring record last year by shooting a six-under-par 210 (69-71-70). Runner-up Tuan-Yu Chiang of Seminole State, who has since signed with Baylor, also broke the previous tournament record with a four-under-par 212 (she previously shared the record of -2, which she shot in 2017), and Nova Southeastern's Michelle Ruiz tied it with a two-under-par 210. Three other players broke par as well, including Gartrell, who has been at even-par and -1 at the last two Lady Moc Classics.
Of the tournament-record six golfers who shot under-par last year, however, only Larsson and Gartrell are back this year. Larsson is attempting to become the first two-time champion of the event, and Gartrell is looking to become Florida Southern's first Lady Moc champion since Marianne Andersson in 2008. Both of the returning favorites are after their third straight top-five Lady Moc Classic.
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 Andersson in 2008. The other two are Pamela Feggans in 2004, and Lisa Cave in 1999 (fall of '98).
So far this season, Florida Southern has had four runner-up finishes in six tournaments, and placed fifth out of 18 schools at the most recent World Golf Invitational the first week of February. The Moccasins have posted four sub-300 rounds so far, something they had done only once at this point last season. They have already defeated top-20 teams Barry, Lynn, Florida Tech, Saint Leo, and Tampa at least once in their first six tournaments, have a tie with Nova Southeastern, and have multiple wins over Flagler and West Florida, the two teams in this week's Lady Moc Classic that are receiving votes in the national poll.
Florida Southern has four golfers who have played in every event so far this season, and three of them are within nine total strokes of each other on the stat sheet. Gartrell is at the top of that list with a 75.47 average and an .839 individual winning percentage. Her runner-up finish at the Saint Leo Invitational with an even-par 144 (73-71) is the best by a Moccasin this season. An individual qualifier for the 2018 NCAA Division II National Finals, Gartrell now owns a 75.56 career stroke average that currently ranks as the best in team history.
Higgins is right behind Gartrell this season with a 75.87 stroke average and leads the team with three top-10 finishes. In two of those, Higgins was in the top-five, which included a one-over-par 145 in the Battle at Old South where she finished fifth in a field of 90. She also tied for fourth at the Lady Falcon Invitational.
Perez has put together a strong freshman campaign so far and checks in just behind Higgins with a 76.07 average. She has a pair of top-10 finishes, including a fifth-place showing at the Nova Southeastern Shark Invitational. Only once in six tournaments has she been outside the top-20.
Senior Madi Wetzel will be playing in the tournament for the third time in her career and has played some of her best golf in the Lady Moc Classic. As a freshman, she had the Moccasins' best score in the tournament with a 227 that tied her for eighth out of 94 golfers, and had another score of 227 as a sophomore to tie for 17th out of 98. Wetzel is coming off a strong showing in the World Golf Invitational where she tied for 21st in a field of 98 as the Mocs' No. 2 scorer.
Completing the Florida Southern lineup is sophomore Shelby Lewis. The Saint Leo Invitational is the only tournament in which Lewis did not play, and she's played in the other five as either an individual or as part of the Mocs' regular lineup. She played in the most recent World Golf Invitational as an individual and tied for 21st out of 98 golfers.
Competing in the Lady Moc Classic as individuals are sophomore Ashley Zagers, and freshmen Nathalie Svensson, Hanna Rizzolo, and Hayley Musselman. Zagers, who was the 2018 SSC Freshman-of-the-Year, has played in three events this year and has one of the team's best finishes after tying for seventh at the Saint Leo Invitational in her last tournament. Zagers tied for 14th at last year's Lady Moc Classic with a 225, making her one of the tournament's top returners. Svensson has played in every tournament this season and also had her best performance at Saint Leo where she tied for 19th, helped Florida Southern finish second to Barry by three shots, and tied with or ahead of six other teams that are playing in the Lady Moc Classic.
Rizzolo will making her fourth appearance of the season and had her top finish in the fall at the Battle at Old South where she tied for 37th out of 90 with a 155. Meanwhile, Musselman, will be playing in her first tournament as a member of the Moccasins.