The NCAA Division II South Region Tournament gets underway Monday morning at Cleveland Country Club in Cleveland, Tennessee where Florida Southern is one of 12 teams competing for four spots in the Division II National Finals. Lee University is serving as host for the three-day, three-round tournament that is one of four regionals being played across the country this week. The top four teams in each of those, along with the top four individuals not with the advancing teams, will move on to the national finals in Palm Beach Gardens, May 14-18.
Fans can follow all of the action through the Lee University tournament home page, which includes links to live scoring, tee times and pairings, and a daily photo gallery.
The Moccasins are making their 20th trip to the NCAA Tournament, and 19th under current head coach Robbie Davis. Since the NCAA began conducting regional tournaments in 2002, the Mocs have played in 15 of them, including this one, and have won three, most recently in 2012. They have been runner-up on five other occasions. (Prior to 2002, selected teams went straight to the national finals.) Florida Southern's only individual regional champion was Rachel Bell in 2002, but six Moccasins have finished as the regional runner-up, or were tied for second.
The South Region has produced 17 of the 19 previous Division II National Champions as well as 13 national runners-up, and all 30 of those teams have come from the Sunshine State Conference. This year's South Region Tournament features eight teams from the SSC, and all of them are ranked in the top-20 of the latest WGCA national poll. That list is led by top-ranked Barry, which has won the last two South Region championships. Also representing the SSC are No. 3 Nova Southeastern, No. 5 Florida Tech, No. 7 Lynn, No. 12 Rollins, No. 13 Florida Southern, No. 17 Saint Leo, and No. 19 Tampa.
The South Region Tournament also includes No. 11 Limestone (SC), No. 20 Lee (TN), No. 21 Flagler, and Anderson (SC). That gives this regional 11 of the nation's 21 highest ranked teams, and at least seven of them will see their seasons end this week in Tennessee. The other three regional tournaments have 12 nationally ranked teams combined.
Florida Southern heads to Cleveland with a team stroke average of 303.37, which is almost identical to its average from last year when the Moccasins finished fourth in the regional tournament. (Only the top three advanced last year.) The Mocs have had nine sub-300 rounds this season, which also matches their total going into last year's regional tournament. Their best score of the season was a 292 (+4) in the final round of the Barry University Invitational on March 26, a tournament in which nine of this week's South Region selections competed, as well as four others that are seeded third or higher in other regional tournaments. The Moccasins beat six of those teams at the Barry Invitational, including defending national champion Indianapolis.
Making the trip to Tennessee this week are junior Amanda Gartrell, senior Tori Higgins, freshman Loren Perez, sophomore Shelby Lewis, and senior Madi Wetzel. Gartrell, Higgins, and Lewis are all playing in the regional tournament for the second year in a row after helping the Mocs finish fourth last year in Memphis when they were only four shots away from advancing to the national finals.
Gartrell has five top-10 finishes this year, an .860 individual winning percentage, is leading the team in stroke average for the third year in a row, and for the second year in a row is just off the team record set by Heather Burgner in 2008-09. Gartrell, who is No. 20 in the Golfstat individual rankings, goes into the NCAA Tournament at 74.40, slightly lower than her average last season, and just 0.13 behind Burgner on the school's single-season list. A 218 (+2) in the regional tournament would allow her to move ahead of Burgner. Gartrell shot a 222 at last year's regional tournament, which tied her for third place and sent her to the national finals as an individual qualifier.
Higgins is second on the team this year with three top-10 finishes and a .718 individual winning percentage while posting a 76.78 stroke average that has helped her to a No. 56 national ranking. She's the Mocs' most experienced player with over 100 rounds and tied for 41st at last year's South Region Tournament. Her best finish this year came at the Lady Falcon Invitational where she tied for fourth, and more recently tied for 18th in a field of 103 at the Lady Moc Classic.
Lewis had a top-20 showing at last year's South Region Tournament when she tied for 18th with a 230 (77-77-76). She had a pair of 14th-place finishes this year, including one in the Argonaut Invitational at the end of the regular season.
Perez is second on the team to Gartrell with a 76.27 stroke average that is the best for a Florida Southern freshman in 12 years. She began her career by tying for 10th at the Lady Falcon Invitational in September and is now ranked sixth nationally among freshman by Golfstat.
Wetzel heads to the NCAA Tournament for the first time after becoming a regular member of the lineup this spring. In the Moccasins' six tournaments this semester, Wetzel has beaten nearly two-thirds of her opponents while seeing her average fall by nearly two strokes per round.
The super regional format calls for one round each day beginning at 8:30 a.m. First- and second-round pairings are pre-determined based on seeding, with the final round based on team scores up to that point. As the No. 7 seed, Florida Southern will play the first two rounds with Tampa and Rollins. Those teams are scheduled to tee off Monday morning between 8:40 and 9:20 with 10-minute intervals between each group. On Tuesday, their tee times range between 9:20 and 10:00.
Though it's a first-time NCAA regional site, the par-72 course at Cleveland Country Club covering 5,957 yards has hosted several USGA, college, and amateur events over the years. It was established in 1924, and has become Cleveland's premier family country club. Since 1980, Cleveland Country Club has hosted 16 TGA events and six PGA events.
Florida Southern has traditionally been among the Division II powers in women's golf since the program began play in 1995-96. The Moccasins have advanced to the national finals 14 times, winning four national championships and finishing as national runner-up on five occasions. Only Rollins has more first- or second-place finishes at the national finals.
The 2019 Division II National Championships are being held in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida at PGA National Resort, May 14-18.