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April 27, 2014

Stage is set for Gamecock women’s golf

South Carolina’s women’s golf team will learn its regional site Monday, but no matter where the Gamecocks play, coach Kalen Harris will field a team armed with momentum and brimming with confidence.

South Carolina’s women’s golf team will learn its regional site Monday, but no matter where the Gamecocks play – Tallahassee, Fla., Stillwater, Okla. or Ce Elum, Wash. – coach Kalen Harris will field a team armed with momentum and brimming with confidence.

With two victories and three second-place finishes in their nine tournaments, the Gamecocks have earned a place among the elite. Their national rankings – fifth by Golfstat, sixth by Golf World and ninth by Golfweek – are the program’s loftiest ever.

Surprised? Not Harris, in her seventh season at Carolina.

“It’s hard to say we’ve exceeded expectations, because our goals are pretty high,” she said. “We just try to get better every day, every week. This is a crazy game, one with mountains and valleys, and we try to take everything one day at the time.

“We’re pleased so far, but the most important (tournaments) are the next ones.”

Those would be the regional May 8-10 at a site to be announced Monday during the Golf Channel’s Golf Central program from 6-7 p.m., and the NCAA championship May 20-23 in Tulsa, Okla. The top eight in each regional advance to the nationals.

The Gamecocks have a history of peaking late in the season under Harris, but the 2013-14 squad did not wait. Freshman Katelyn Dambaugh joined a veteran team that has finished no worse than sixth – and that came in the first event.

“The neat thing is how this team plays really hard, and that’s what I love about them,” Harris said, and that trait could be seen in last weekend’s SEC championship. Carolina started slowly and lingered in the middle of the pack before charging in the final round to finish second.

“Gamecock golf,” she called the final round.

Dambaugh, junior Justine Dreher, senior Samantha Swinehart and sophomore Sarah Schmelzel form the nucleus and will be joined by senior Suzie Lee in the national tournaments. Scoring averages fall between the 73.4 and 75.3. Dreher has led the team in scoring five times.

“Any of the five can go low at any time, and they’re generally steady overall,” Harris said. “We don’t have to depend on the same player in every tournament, and depth like that is nice.”

Five of her six Carolina teams have advanced to the national tourney, with the 2012 squad finishing fifth. Two won regional titles (2010, ’12). The 2013 Gamecocks continued that pattern with third place in the SEC championship and fourth place in the West Regional before slumping to 20th in the national event.

A six-stroke triumph in the Ping ASU Invitational in Arizona early this month sent the Gamecocks’ stock higher. The victory came against six teams ranked in the top 10.

“That was a nice week,” Harris said.

If history repeats, more “nice weeks” could follow soon.

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