After posting a field-best 308 in the second round of the OVC Championship, the Racers looked poised to storm back and stake claim to the NCAA Regional automatic bid and third league title since 2009.
However, a particularly difficult third round thwarted efforts, and the comeback never surfaced as the team settled for a third place finish, 18 strokes behind first place Jacksonville State and five strokes behind second place Morehead State.
Head Coach Velvet Milkman said the loss stung, especially after such an incredible run through the schedule. The Racers were the only team headed into the Championship with any tournament victories.
“We’re disappointed in the ending of the tournament,” Milkman said. “It’s not what we hoped for, and it was not our goal going in to lose. We just didn’t put 18 holes together on the same day.”
Not all was lost, however, as sophomore Delaney Howson and junior Alexandra Lennartsson both finished in the top five as individuals. Howson posted a 78-75-71=224, while Lennartsson fired a 75-73-79=227.
Because they finished in the top five, Howson and Lennartsson were chosen for the All-OVC Tournament team, while Jacksonville State also placed two players in the top five.
“I’m very proud of Delaney and Alex,” Milkman said. “They both had an opportunity to win the tournament, but we just gave up some strokes coming down the stretch.”
Senior Morgan Cross, competing in her last tournament as a Racer, finished in eighth place, shooting a 75-80-78=233, while junior Gina Nuzzo shot a score of 79-80-85=244 (22nd) and junior Alli Weaver finished out with a 79-81-85=245 (25th) to round out the Murray State starters.
Milkman said the tournament was definitely a learning experience for her players as she and the Racers hope to use the lessons as stepping stones to an even stronger team next year.
“You’ve got to stay in the moment,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what happened behind you or in front of you, the key to golf is not letting everything around you affect your golf game. No one wants to play bad golf, and (the team) didn’t want to play bad golf; what kept us back is that emotionally we weren’t strong enough.”
With little hope left, the Racers dropped eight strokes on the last hole of the tournament as Howson, Lennartsson and Weaver bogeyed, Nuzzo double-bogeyed and Cross triple-bogeyed.
Drained and defeated, the Racers returned to the clubhouse with heads held high, but were left wanting a bit disappointed with a third place finish.
For their steady play and year-round success, Lennartsson, Cross and Howson were selected All-OVC, while freshman Sophie Olley was selected All-OVC Newcomer.
After placing three players in All-OVC and two in the All-Tournament Team, Milkman was selected by her peers as OVC Coach of the Year. This marks the ninth time in 19 years of coaching Milkman has received the honor.
“If you look at the entire year, Murray State had the best year by far,” Milkman said. “It was one of the better seasons in program history, and this just goes to show that I am surrounded by good players, and we had a great year.”