Athletic Excellence - Saint Mary's Golf
Saint Mary's Golf - Aiming High
A chance to be in contention for a championship - that is what head coach Mark Hamilton has brought to the Saint Mary's golf team since beginning his tenure with the program in the fall of 2002.
Prior to Hamilton's arrival, the young Saint Mary's golf program was competitive but continually found themselves looking up at the rest of the pack in the conference. The Belles finished first at an MIAA round just one time while no individual golfer claimed medalist honors at a league event prior to the 2002 season. Moreover, the Belles shot just one round below 350 before the fall of 2002 - a 349 in 1999.
All of that drastically changed in September 2002. The Belles finished in a tie for second place at the first of three conference jamborees with a 346, their new lowest score in an MIAA round. Two weeks later, Hamilton and company turned in a 338 for their first top finish at a league event and Stefanie Simmerman finished in a three-way tie for medalist honors. Another week later, the Belles had an even lower score by tying a course record with a 323 at Winding Creek Golf Club and their second consecutive first place finish at an MIAA jamboree.
The Belles were hardly finished then. The golf team captured its first MIAA title during the first weekend in October, defeating defending champion Hope by 14 strokes. Three of the scoring five players for Saint Mary’s finished in the top ten of the championship event, led by a 161 from championship tournament medalist Julia Adams.
Earning a berth to the NCAA Division III Championships in the spring of 2003, the Belles continued to make their presence known as they emerged on the scene as an up-and-coming force in women’s golf. The team claimed fourth place in that initial showing and was just four strokes behind the third place team and five strokes behind the runners-up that spring. Stefanie Simmerman, however, took full advantage of her opportunity in 2003 by claiming the College's first individual national championship in her sophomore season.
The team kept right on with their winning ways in the MIAA, capturing the next three conference titles while boasting the league season medalist and Most Valuable Golfer in 2003, 2004, and 2005. Adding titles in both 2009 and 2010, a Saint Mary's golfer has been the top performer in the league in seven of the past eight seasons. Additionally, seven different golfers have claimed the distinction of having been a season medalist at the end of the year, something no other team in the MIAA can claim.
The Belles have continued to move up the rankings as their scores plummet, and that trend continues today. This spring alone, the team posted an individual school record of 66 in a single round, a 142 for a two-day total by an individual, and a team score of 302. All three of those scores were new school records. The end of the regular season in the spring saw Saint Mary's claim the MIAA's automatic qualifiying bid for the NCAA Division III Golf Championships by 24 strokes over second place Olivet.
In the team's sixth overall appearance at the NCAA Championships in May, the Belles were able to capture fourth place in a weather-shortened championship. The fourth place finish matched both the best finish in program history as well as the best finish by an MIAA women's golf team at the championships. Senior Mary Kate Boyce, meanwhile, became a two-time All-American as she was named to NGCA's All-American Second Team. The senior co-captain also claimed the team's best individual finish of the championships with a share of ninth place in the field of more than one hundred golfers.
This past May was the third consecutive season that the Belles finished higher than they were ranked in the championship tournament. In 2009, Saint Mary's took tenth place after being seeded 17th. Last May, the Belles captured fourth place while entering the tournament as the eighth-ranked team. This spring, the Belles came into the week ranked eighth nationally but were the number nine seeded team. With the fourth place finish, the Belles ended the tournament ahead of higher seeded teams DePauw (#1), Wisconsin-Eau Claire (#3), George Fox University (#4), Williams College (#5), Washington University in St. Louis (#6), and North Central College (#7).
With the continued success over the past nine years for the Belles, one thing can be certain - head coach Mark Hamilton will look to continue to achieve the previously undone with his Saint Mary’s golf team.