The Florida Southern women's golf team opens play in the 2019 Sunshine State Conference Championships on Sunday as the Moccasins and 10 other teams descend on the south course at Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club in Saint Leo for the three-round, 54-hole tournament. It's the seventh time the SSC Championships have been held at Lake Jovita, and Saint Leo University is this year's host school.
The SSC Championships run Sunday through Tuesday with one round played each day. First-round pairings are determined by the Golfstat team rankings, with second and third-round pairings based on team scores up to that point. Tee times begin at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday and Tuesday, with groups beginning on holes 1 and 10 with 10-minute intervals. Monday's tee times begin at 10:30 a.m. with every group starting on No. 1, again with 10-minute intervals.
Links to all information pertaining to the championships, including live scoring, exact tee times for each group, and tournament history, may be found at the SSC Championships Home Page.
Scoring will consist of stroke play for all three rounds, with teams playing five golfers. The four lowest scores in each round count toward the team score. If two or more teams are tied at the end of regulation play for the championship, then those teams will compete in a sudden death playoff on a pre-determined hole using the same scoring format (four lowest scores counting). Any golfers tied for medalist honors will also compete in a one-hole playoff to determine the SSC individual champion.
The winner of the SSC Tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA South Region Tournament, but the strength of the league at the regional and national levels means as many as seven other SSC schools could receive at-large bids. Going into the conference tournament, SSC schools hold eight of the top nine positions in the NCAA South Region rankings, and those same eight teams also appear in the national coaches poll conducted by the WGCA. Barry is No. 1, and defending conference champion Nova Southeastern is No. 3. They are followed by No. 5 Florida Tech, No. 8 Lynn, No. 11 Florida Southern, No. 13 Saint Leo, No. 16 Rollins, and No. 19 Tampa.
The Sunshine State Conference has produced 17 of the 19 national champions since Division II begin holding its own championship tournament in 2000, and in 13 of those championship seasons, the national runner-up also came from the SSC. Barry is the league's most recent national champion in 2017, while Florida Southern, Lynn, Nova Southeastern, and Rollins have all won multiple national titles.
Now in their 23rd season under head coach Robbie Davis, the Moccasins have put together another strong campaign while competing against some of the country's top Division II programs in every regular season tournament. Florida Southern has been a tournament runner-up four times, and third once. The Mocs have posted their best stroke average in eight years, and had their most sub-300 rounds during the regular season in 10 years. They have also beaten every team in the SSC this year in at least one tournament, with the exception of Nova Southeastern, whom they still tied once.
Gartrell leads the team with a 74.59 stroke average that is the second lowest in team history, 0.1 ahead of her average from a year ago, and behind only Heather Burgner's 74.27 mark from 2008-09. Her career average of 75.29, however, is just ahead of Burgner for first place on the Mocs' all-time list. Gartrell has four top-10 finishes this year and is coming off her first win at the Argonaut Invitational on April 2. She also had a second-place finish earlier this season at Lake Jovita while playing in the Saint Leo Invitational, and only once this year has she finished outside of the top-20. This will be her third appearance at the SSC Championships, and she had the Mocs' best performance last year by tying for eighth place.
Higgins has put together three top-10 finishes for the Mocs this season and like Gartrell, is playing in the SSC Championships for the third time. She has played in all but one tournament this season and owns a 76.54 stroke average. Among her best finishes was eighth place at the Shark Invitational where the Mocs beat six other SSC schools and finished behind only Nova Southeastern. Higgins was 34th at last year's SSC Championships and tied for 17th as a sophomore.
Lewis is playing in the conference championship tournament for the second time in as many seasons, and heads into the postseason after a 14th-place finish at the Argonaut Invitational. It was the second time this year she placed 14th, and Lewis has also finished 21st and 22nd in two other tournaments that featured at least 90 golfers. Lewis has been remarkably consistent too, with the scores from her last four tournaments varying by only two strokes.
Perez is second on the team with a 76.19 stroke average in her rookie season while playing in every tournament. She placed fifth in the Shark Invitational, though her best score came in late March at the Barry Invitational when she turned in a +5 to tie for 23rd in a field of 90. Her 12th-place finish at the Saint Leo Invitational during the fall helped the Moccasins tie Nova Southeastern for second in that tournament, only three shots behind Barry.
Wetzel will be making her first SSC Championship appearance after becoming a regular member of the lineup this spring. She has been playing the best golf of her college career, a stretch that began when she finished 21st out of 98 golfers at the World Golf Invitational at the start of this semester. Wetzel has seen her stroke average drop dramatically since the fall, and only Gartrell has more single-round under-par or even-par scores this semester.
The Moccasins have won the SSC title four times in the 20 years the conference has conducted a championship tournament. Their most recent title came in 2013 when they defeated Nova Southeastern in a playoff, which was also held at Lake Jovita. It remains the only time a playoff has been needed to determine the team champion at the SSC Tournament. That makes Florida Southern one of five different schools to win the SSC Tournament over the last six years: Florida Southern (2013), Lynn (2014), Barry (2015), Rollins (2016), and Nova Southeastern (2017 and '18).
Nova Southeastern won last year's title by five shots over Barry, but each team broke the previous tournament scoring record. The Sharks' winning score of 881 (+17) was seven shots better than what they had while winning the title in 2017 for the previous record. Barry had an 886 (+22), which is now the second lowest score in an SSC Tournament, and Lynn's third-place score of 892 (+28) is the fourth lowest. Florida Southern finished seventh last year when all of the top seven teams in the tournament were selected to play in the NCAA South Region Tournament.
Nova Southeastern's Michelle Ruiz set the individual scoring record with a six-under-par 210 and has since graduated, but runner-up Tilda Larsson of Barry returns after shooting a one-under-par 215. The senior has finished fifth, sixth, and second at the SSC Championships over the last three years. Senior Krissy Ortiz also returns after finishing third last year and is seeking her third straight top-five showing.
Florida Southern's last individual champion was Jana Peterkova in 2002, though the Moccasins have had four runner-ups since then, including Emily Rymer in 2014 and '15.
Following the SSC Championships, selections for the NCAA playoffs will be announced on Monday, April 29. The top 12 teams from each region, along with the top six individuals not on one of those teams, will earn bids to their respective Regional Tournaments, with the South scheduled for Cleveland Country Club in Cleveland, Tennessee, May 6-8. The NCAA Division II National Finals are at PGA National Resort Champions Course in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, May 14-18.