April 19, 2013 3:14:43 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State University is playing its best men's golf at the best time of the season.
Nationally ranked for the first time, the Bulldogs begin play today in the Southeastern Conference championship. The three-day event will feature all 14 conference members and is being held at the Sea Island Golf Course in St. Sinons Island, Georgia.
"Anytime you are recognized as one of the Top 25 teams in the country, you are doing something right," MSU head coach Clay Homan said. "Our goal all year has been to just keep improving and let the results speak for themselves. We've accomplished a lot this year, but really our season is only getting started. What we do in the postseason against the best in the nation is what we will remembered for."
Golfstat.com began its weekly ranking of college golf programs in 1998. The Bulldogs finally broke into the rankings for a first time after winning the Old Waverly Collegiate Championship in West Point. Nine SEC teams are in this week's rankings. The Bulldogs will be paired with No. 21 Texas A&M and No. 23 Tennessee in this morning's flight, which begins for those squads at 8:10 a.m.
A year ago, MSU finished last in the 12-team conference tournament. This season's squad hopes to turn in a much better scorecard, thanks to some regular-season success.
"Right now, we are playing with a lot of confidence," MSU junior Chad Ramey said. "A lot of hard work has gone into this season. We feel like we have made a lot of strides and we are looking forward to competing against some of the nation's best players."
The Bulldogs won four tournaments during the regular season, including wins in three of their last four events played. The victory at Old Waverly came in a sudden death playoff against the University of Alabama at Birmingham. That championship set a new school record for victories in a season.
"We had a lead and let it slip away there but regained our composure in the playoff," MSU junior Axel Boasson said. "With this team this year, we have done a lot better job of keeping our composure. We believe in one another and we believe in our game. We have done a lot better job of staying focused and not letting difficult times get to us. The SEC championship will be quite a challenge, but we look forward to competing.
Both Boasson and Ramey earned SEC Player of the Week honors this season. They will be joined in the lineup today by junior Joe Sakulpolphaisan, senior Robi Calvesbert and junior Barrett Edens.
Ramey placed sixth at Old Waverly and notched seven Top 10 finishes throughout the campaign. Last season, the Fulton native placed seventh overall at the SEC championship. Boasson recorded four Top 10 finishes.
"We have confidence right now because we're winning," Homan said. "We have to continue to get better each and every day, but it is rewarding to see the work that you've put into it be rewarded. We've had three victories already this semester and four overall. It's' been a phenomenal year so far. I'm very proud of the guys."
Meanwhile, the MSU women's team will also begin play today in the SEC championship, which for the ladies will be played at Founders Course at Greystone Country Club in Hoover, Ala.
The three-day tournament's opening round has already been delayed by weather and is expected to start at noon today. The 14-team tournament field will include four Top 10 teams and six Top 25 teams.
"Every year you know going into the SEC championship, it is going to be a battle," MSU head coach Ginger Brown-Lemm said. "The field is as tough as any in collegiate golf. We have something to prove this year and we need to finish strong going into the NCAA's."
The Lady Bulldogs enter the event having matched a school-record with nine straight Top 10 finishes. MSU presently owns a 300.67 average card, which would break the previous school record by nearly five strokes.
The MSU lineup this weekend includes sophomore Ally McDonald, sophomore Rica Tse, sophomore Elena Warren, junior Mary Langdon Gallagher and freshman Gabi Oubre'.
McDonald was twice named SEC player of the week this season and is coming off a school record 6-under par 210 performance at the M&F Bank Rebel Intercollegiate in Oxford.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter