HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS, FL — The Williams College women's golf team ran away from the field Friday to capture its the 2015 NCAA Div. III Championship — its first national title in only the program's 11th year of existence.
The Ephs held a six-stroke lead heading into the final 18 holes and second-place Washington University-St. Louis immediately cut that to three strokes early in the day, but it could not keep pace with Williams, which collectively had the best round of the day at 25-over par 313.
Williams wound up winning the championship by 18 strokes over second-place Wittenberg College after rounds of 319-322-309-313 for a four-day total of 1,263. The Ephs as a team shot 1,285 last year in finishing third — their previous highest NCAA finish.
The Ephs were coached by interim head coach Bill Kangas in his first year at the helm of the program. Kangas has coached men's hockey at Williams for 26 years and added women's golf once former coach Erika DeSanty took the head coaching position at Princeton University last June.
"It's pretty surreal actually," Kangas said. "You know the kids are out there grinding all day and all of a sudden the last player hits the final putt and you realize you're the national champions. I am incredibly proud of the whole group of 10 women, they've been so close all year and it was a real team effort, they all pitched in."
Sophomore Sarah Haselman and first year Phoebe Mattana led the way for Williams on Friday, both finishing wih rounds of 4-over 76. Sophomore Sophie Kitchen was right behind with a 5-over 77 and she was the highest Eph individual finisher with a four-day total of 308 (79-75-77-77), which landed her in third place overall.
Mattana finished tied for seventh individually with a 4-day total of 314 (83-79-76-76) and Hasselman was tied for 15th with a four-day total of 320 (81-83-80-76). Sophomore Tracey Kim shot an 84 on Friday and was tied for 21st with a 321 (80-81-77-84) and senior captain Shelby Shote shot a 91 final round score and placed 55th with a four-day total of 341.
Because of their top-10 finish at the national championship tournament, both Kitchen and Mattana were named WGCA Div. III Honorable Mention All-America.
"To have a national championship staring you in the face isn't easy," Kangas said. "Our captains, Shelby Shote and Caroline Sawin, did a great job keeping everyone grounded and focused on the little things. To play as well as we did the last two days is a testament to these kids focusing on individual goals, staying with the process, and not thinking about the end result. The course and conditions were challenging, but to our team's credit, they rose to the occasion."
The top three Ephs on Friday were simply par machines. Hasselman was a 2-over on the front 9 with seven pars, and a 2-over on the back 9 with seven pars to earn her 76 with 14 pars over 18 holes. Mattana was a 3-over on the front 9 with a birdie on the par-3 8th hole, and a 1-over on the back nine with a birdie on the 11th hole. She finished with 10 pars, including her final five holes of the day, to earn her 76.
Kitchen was a plus-4 on the front 9 with a birdie on the seventh hole, but got sensationally consistent on the back 9 with eight pars, including the final seven holes she played.
This was the 16th NCAA DIII Women's Golf Championship. Methodist won the first 13 in a row before Mary Hardin Baylor won in 2013 and Rhodes College took home the title last year. This is the fourth consecutive year Williams has finished in the top five (3rd, 5th, 5th).
"It's amazing," Kangas said. "It's a tribute to all the coaches who came before, and to Erika (DeSanty), who did an amazing job here and brought in some incredible kids — she's a part of this as well."
This is the sixth time that the championships have been played at the El Campéon Golf Course in Howey-in-the Hills, FL. The 2014 championship was played there too.
It was the the 31st NCAA title won by 10 different Eph teams.