June 13, 2014 11:06:20 AM
STARKVILLE -- Belief sounds like such a simple concept.
Ginger Brown-Lemm had that mentality when she arrived in Starkville with the goal to transform the Mississippi State women's golf team into a Southeastern Conference power and a national contender.
Ally McDonald had that confidence in Brown-Lemm and in herself that she could play a role in elevating the Bulldogs to those levels.
If you still have any doubts, Brown-Lemm and McDonald offer the 2013-14 season as an example to how far belief can take you.
Not only did No. 27 MSU advance to the NCAA Championship for the second-consecutive season, it also beat four top-10 and 13 top-25 schools en route to a sixth-place finish last month at the event in Tulsa, Oklahoma. MSU fired a school-best 283 and a 7-over-par 287 to finish 37-over-par 1,157. The finish was the best of any SEC team. The 1,157 was 64 shots better and 18 spots higher than the team's showing at the 2013 NCAA Championship.
"This has been an unbelievable year," said Brown-Lemm, who joined McDonald on Thursday to talk about the historic season. "It shows you what belief can do. It shows you what hard work and the process and sticking to a plan (can do)."
Brown-Lemm, who just completed her fourth season at MSU, has continued to take the program "2 Levels Up", or "2LU", each season. She credits a "process" for helping MSU players go from a 315 scoring average for 18 holes to a 293 scoring average in that time period. She also didn't hesitate to praise assistant coach Leigh Phillips and a talented blend of veterans and newcomers for coming together to produce the best season in program history.
"It is a bit surreal sometimes, but it even shows me as a coach you can do anything if you believe you can," Brown-Lemm said.
McDonald, a junior from Fulton, has played a key role by attracting other elite players and by being a team-first student-athlete who has been committed and dedicated to doing the things that needed to be done to get MSU to this point. She also is doing everything she can individually to raise MSU's profile. Last week, McDonald represented the United States at the Curtis Cup Match at the St. Louis Country Club. The Curtis Cup Match is one of the top amateur events that pairs two amateur female teams, one from the United States and one from Great Britain and Ireland. McDonald went 2-0-2 in the tournament to help the U.S. earn a 13-7 victory.
McDonald will stay busy next week when she competes in the U.S. Women's Open at the Pinehurst Resort in Pinehurst, North Carolina.
"I am thrilled to death about the example that she leads," Brown-Lemm said. "We were so fortunate to get her to help us start this process. Often you will have exceptional athletes, but they are not great team members. Golf is so individual, so we are taking an individual sport (and) throwing it into a team environment. Her goal is to compete individually, but never is there a time she puts team second. I think that example from her and our other junior to be senior, Rica Tse, they always put the team first."
McDonald, freshmen Jessica Peng and Ji Eun Baik, Tse, and senior Mary Langdon Gallagher helped solidify the team concept. McDonald led MSU at the NCAA Championship with a 1-under-par 279, which earned her a share of fourth place. Peng and Tse tied for 59th at 14-over 294, while Baik (tied for 84th, 299) and Gallagher (tied for 98th, 302) helped MSU finish behind national champion Duke and perennial powers Southern California, UCLA, Oklahoma, and Arizona State.
Brown-Lemm said passion and belief were important elements to establish at the beginning to help the Bulldogs believe they were as good as any players on another team. She feels confidence and McDonald's belief in the system that helped trigger the turnaround.
McDonald said her focus when she committed to MSU was to help Brown-Lemm build a more competitive program. She said it is "amazing" to see it all come together and to see the team excel like everyone wanted.
"If I didn't believe, I wouldn't have come here," McDonald said. "That is the reason I came here. I knew the program wasn't where it needed to be. I have always been a Mississippi State fan, so I have followed a lot of the athletics. I had a lot of belief in this program. I knew if I worked hard -- and I knew coach would work hard in getting the right people here -- (we could accomplish our goals). We have taken the steps needed, and we're going to continue."
McDonald said she didn't know what to expect from the Curtis Cup Match but said Thursday the experience was "amazing." She said she didn't expect the U.S. team to win like it did, but she feels the exposure to having a big crowd follow her will help prepare her for the U.S. Women's Open and her final college season.
Brown-Lemm has all the confidence McDonald and the Bulldogs will be able to overcome anything that comes their way because of one simple concept that has become a core principle in MSU's emergence as a national power.
"Ally can handle any level of competition," Brown-Lemm said. "She is that solid of an athlete. She is that solid of a competitor. Her mental game is exceptional, and her technical game is ready."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.