By Jim O'Hara
ROME -- For the past several years, the golf teams at Shorter have made a name for themselves during the spring season when the Lady Hawks and Hawks annually became among the nation's top NAIA programs.
This spring, however, head coach Greg Owens' golfers are redirecting their priorities, adapting to the transitional process Shorter is making on its path to become a full-fledged NCAA Division II member in 2014-15 and doing so by focusing in on what can be accomplished at present to pave the way for a bright future.
"Our focus this year was to win the NCCAA tournament in the fall and we're proud of what we did," said Owens, who saw the Lady Hawks and Hawks finished third in the National Christian College Athletic Association national tourney last fall, Shorter's lone opportunity to secure postseason honors until it concludes its three-year NCAA transition process in the teams are not allowed to compete in NCAA or Gulf South Conference tournaments.
"This spring we will take different lineups to the tournaments," Owens went on to say about how the teams will now use abbreviated spring seasons this year and next to make a quick impact on the GSC and the NCAA in the spring of 2015. "Both teams are very young so they'll get the experience for this fall and beyond."
The Lady Hawks will be the first off the tee this season getting a plethora of experience when they head to Broussard, La., to play in the McNeese State Invitational in a field that has 15 Division I teams along with the lone Division II squad – Shorter, which clearly showed that they are determined to make the most of the transition period.
The fall produced a number of top finishes, claiming a pair of third-place finishes at the Montevallo Full Moon BBQ Invitational in Calera, Ala. – another DI field – and The Chick-fil-A Invitational at Coosa Country Club in Rome. The Lady Hawks then tuned up for the NCCAA tourney winning The Buccaneer, a five-team showdown in Tunica, Miss., that included a pair of GSC foes, Christian Brothers and Union.
The fall production came, as will be the case this spring, from impressive performances by several of the young Lady Hawks on the roster.
Freshman Rachel Butler of Eva, Ala., and sophomore Isabella Baldacci of Norfolk, Neb., each turned in top-20 finishes at the NCCAA's, while sophomore Maria Bengtsson of Sweden and freshman Amanda Schwartz of Germany also competed in the event.
Keeping an eye on the future, Owens said that Butler and Bengtsson will be red-shirted next year then resume their college careers when the Lady Hawks enter the NCAA fray, and believes that freshman Alyson Hicks of Buford, who has only been playing golf for two years, has the potential to be a key player among a young group of Lady Hawks.
Young is the key word for Shorter's men as well as the Hawks have found a talented group of underclassmen to take over the reins of the program, and looking at what they did last fall the future is a bright one when they posted a third-place outing at the Montevallo Full Moon BBQ Invitational, won the men's portion of The Buccaneer that set up their third place finish at the NCCAA's.
Two freshman, Juan Giraldo of Colombia and freshman Jordan Bethune of Fort Payne, Ala., gained some quick tourney experience at the national event, while freshman Miles Mendiola of Frederick, Md., also showed promising signs as the Hawks head into the spring.
After their play at McNeese State, the Lady Hawks return to Rome to compete in the Berry Invitational on March 4 at Stonebridge Golf Club. The men join the women on March 17 for a trip to Dahlonega to face North Georgia, and then the Hawks are off on their own on March 21 when they return to Camp Lejeune, N.C. to play in the Marine Corps Collegiate.
After the Lady Hawks compete in the Agnes McAmis Memorial in Greeneville, Tenn., on April 7 and the Hawks head to Stonebridge on April 15 for the Rome News-Invitational, the two teams close out the spring on April 21 when they play in the GSC Championship in Tunica, Miss.
Shorter's first GSC tourney appearance, however, will be one in which because of their transitional status the scores of the Lady Hawks and Hawks will not be posted.
"We're going there to gain good experience," said Owens, who in addition to nurturing the youthful squad for what lies ahead, added that recruiting is an on-going process and is one helped by the fact that Shorter's name is known by players interested in coming to the Rome school. "Our golf program is an established one now and the players out there know it."
"We feel that when we start competing as a Division II team," Owens said, "we'll have the teams that will make some noise right away."