April 30, 2013 10:56:08 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State University women's golf coach Ginger Brown-Lemm believed this moment would happen for her program.
What she wasn't prepared for was the emotion she felt when she helped MSU get back to the postseason. The Lady Bulldogs' third-year coach went from shock to pride after she saw "Mississippi State" on the screen when the NCAA Regional teams were announced Monday night online on NCAA.com.
"That's just a rush of energy you can't get anywhere else in the world," Brown-Lemm said. "I saw the M and then the I and then realized 'wait a minute, that's us'. This is my fifth year of college coaching, and I'm so excited to finally be taking a team to NCAAs."
After taking over the program from longtime coach Christy Sanders, Brown-Lemm knew her first recruiting class would help lead the Lady Bulldogs back to national prominence. She convinced Ally McDonald, one of the best junior players in the Southeast, to stay at home and to honor her verbal commitment to MSU. She then got Rica Tse, an international standout from New Zealand, to join her program.
"I believed in them immediately, but I didn't know if this group of young players would believe in themselves so quickly," Brown-Lemm said. "They did, and they continue to do so, so now that they're in the postseason, this group doesn't care who is in the field. They believe."
MSU solidified its chances of earning its first postseason appearance since 2006 last week with a fifth-place finish in the Southeastern Conference Championship. On Monday night at a selection party at Buffalo Wild Wings in Starkville, MSU learned it has received an invitation to the NCAA's Central Regional on May 9-11 at the par-72, 6,327-yard Jimmie Austin OU Golf Course in Norman, Okla. Lemm's first thought as a graduate of University of Texas was she would take her first NCAA team to the home turf of one of her alma mater's biggest rivals: the University of Oklahoma.
"It's been a long time ago since I played that golf course, but being a Longhorn by education, we did play there that's for sure," Brown-Lemm said.
The NCAA Championships will be May 21-24 at the University of Georgia Golf Course in Athens, Ga.
While being seeded 19th in its 24-team regional, Brown-Lemm knows those rankings won't mean much because every team's scores goes back to zero in the postseason, which is a formula that helped MSU have success at the SEC Championship.
"You have three rounds at a difficult golf course to prove yourself, and that's all anybody could ask for," Brown-Lemm said. "Here's how we look at, somebody is going to play well and somebody is going to play horrid. Why wouldn't we play well?"
The regional format splits 72 schools into three 24-team fields. The top eight teams from each field will qualify for the 24-team NCAA championships. Thirteen of the 14 SEC schools earned a postseason bid, the most of any league.
MSU's regional will include No. 3 Duke University, No. 4 Oklahoma, and No. 9 University of Florida.
"The amazing thing about this year for us is we have focused on what our job is without regard to who is in the field, what course we play, or who our pairing is," Brown-Lemm said. "Our theme was control what you can control. None of those things I just mentioned fall in that category."
Brown-Lemm feels she has one of the nation's best players in McDonald. The sophomore from Fulton competed in the 2012 NCAA West Regional as an individual and tied for 49th. In 2012, she broke MSU's individual stroke average record (72.70) held by Amanda Mathis by nearly two strokes. McDonald is 38th in the country according to the latest Golfweek/Sagarin individual rankings. She tied for third last week at the SEC Championship last week, one stroke out of second.
"Last year, playing as a individual was awesome. Don't get me wrong, but it was different and kind of lonely," McDonald said. "The experience is what I can bring as a former NCAA participant will be key. If we play the way we're supposed to, we can qualify for nationals."