As the South Carolina women’s golf team opens play in the SEC championship in Birmingham, Ala., Friday, a stiff breeze of positive energy is pushing at its back.
The No. 6-ranked Gamecocks have won two tournaments this season, including the Ping ASU Invitational in Tempe, Ariz., two weeks ago, where they shot a program-record 11-under 853.
“That was an exciting win for us because it gives us some momentum going into the postseason,” USC coach Kalen Harris said. “This is, definitely, the most success we’ve had in the regular season since I’ve been here.”
The Gamecocks finished ahead of three other teams ranked in the Top 5 nationally – UCLA, Duke and Arizona State – in the PING tournament, with senior Samantha Swinehart shooting USC’s low score.
“After Arizona, we’re a lot more confident. We see what we’re able to do,” said freshman Katelyn Dambaugh. “That was a really strong field, pretty close to a national championship field. The fact we came out on top really gives us confidence going into SEC and nationals.”
Only No. 4 Arkansas ranks ahead of the Gamecocks as the SEC championship takes place Friday through Sunday. Alabama, Vanderbilt, LSU, Florida and Auburn also reside in the Top 25.
USC needs its core four of Swinehart, Dambaugh, junior Justine Dreher and sophomore Sarah Schmelzel to continue their consistent play.
“The cool part about this team is the depth we have. There’s no one superstar, which is something different,” Harris said.
Harris, a former All-American at Duke, has guided the Gamecocks to NCAA championship play in five of her six seasons, including an East Regional title in 2010 and in 2012, when they went on to finish a school-best fifth in the national tournament.
Swinehart leads USC with a 73.26 scoring average,followed by Dambaugh (73.60), Dreher (73.74) and Schmelzel (74.09). They also represent the wide-ranging nature of Harris’ recruiting efforts. While Dambaugh is from the Charleston area, Swinehart came from Ohio, Dreher from France, and Schmelzel from Arizona.
“Since my freshman year, every year the team has been better,” Dreher said. “Coach has done a really good job recruiting because we get better and better freshmen. And the upper class players get better because the good freshmen push us and we push them.”
Dambaugh arrived this season and discovered a special chemistry among the golfers, who include senior Suzie Lee, sophomore Mary Fran Hillow and freshman Jia Xin Yang splitting time at the No. 5 spot in tournaments.
“We get along amazingly. We’re a family, we always have fun when we go to tournaments, and we pick each other up if one of us isn’t playing well,” Dambaugh said.
Next for USC will be the NCAA regionals May 8-10 and the NCAA championship May 20-23 in Tulsa.