HARROGATE, Tenn. — This is an in-depth preview of the 2015-16 Lincoln Memorial University women’s golf season, including coaches’ quotes, roster analysis and a 2014-15 year in review.
The senior-laden Lady Railsplitters were rock solid throughout the 2014-15 campaign, nailing down seven top-5s, five top-3s and the program’s first tournament victory since 2012.
Lincoln Memorial opened last season’s schedule with three consecutive top-three finishes. The highlight of the year came at the Southeast Kentucky Invitational on March 17, as the Lady Railsplitters edged the University of the Cumberlands by seven strokes for the tournament title. It was the Lady Railsplitters’ first win since capturing the LMU Spring Shootout crown in March 2012.
The Lady Railsplitters finished fourth at the 2015 South Atlantic Conference Championship with rounds of 320, 321 and 314, falling 19 strokes short of champion Carson-Newman and 12 strokes shy of runner-up Newberry. LMU’s third round score trailed only Carson-Newman for the best round of the day.
As a team, Lincoln Memorial concluded the 2014-15 season with a 318.8 scoring average. That is the third-best mark in the program’s single-season history, trailing the 2012-13 squad by only 1.7 strokes for the program record.
“We needed a good season and I think we had a pretty good one. We had four seniors, so I thought we had the potential to have some success,” LMU associate head women’s golf coach Maria Stapleton said. “The girls worked hard and as a whole that revealed itself in the results. There were a few places we could have played better, when we lost some steam, though. By its nature, golf is a sport that you’re never happy with. There’s always shots left out on the course, shots you wish you could have back. We were happy, but our girls felt like there was a little bit left on the table.”
The Lady Railsplitters return three of their top seven players in terms of scoring average from a season ago in junior Sydney Gallant (Angus, Ontario, Canada) and seniors Danielle Burrell (Basingstoke, England) and Michaela Conway (Chester, Virginia).
Gallant was one of just two players to appear in all 10 events last season, composing a 79.29 stroke average, a .729 win-loss record, five top-10s and one top-5. Gallant carries a career 80.39 scoring average, which would rank no. 2 in the program’s career record book. A 2014 SAC All-Tournament first team honoree, Gallant tied for 11th in the 2015 SAC Championship.
Burrell and Conway were separated by only 12 one-hundredths of a point in scoring average last season, as Burrell posted an 82.88 mark and Conway finished with an even 83. Burrell recorded two top-10s, while Conway notched a pair of top-5s, including a runner-up finish at the Southeast Kentucky Invitational.
The Lady Railsplitters also return junior Kasey Ankrom (Bean Station, Tennessee), who appeared in five events last season and compiled an 84.56 scoring average.
“That group has had a ton of experience, and I expect them to lead our team into what could be one of our best seasons ever,” said Stapleton. “Sydney has been our saving grace in conference for the last two years, and I don’t see any reason why that wouldn’t continue to be the case. Danielle had some great rounds last year and she’s hitting the ball well this year. Michaela has been there and she’s been under pressure. I expect those three to have a great season.”
Lindsay Davis, Brandy VanEtten, Lindy McGuire and Mercedes Smith exhausted their eligibility with the Lady Railsplitters last season, leaving numerous question marks in the starting rotation.
Davis is unquestionably the most substantial loss of that bunch, as she led the Lady Railsplitters last season with a 77.95 stroke average, a ridiculous .831 win-loss record and seven top-10s.
Davis shot rounds of 78, 77 and 74 to win the 2015 SAC Championship in her final tournament in the Blue and Gray, becoming the first player in program history to accomplish that feat. She left the program ranked second in career scoring average (81.35).
VanEtten accounted for an 80.66 scoring average last season with three top-10s, while McGuire was rock solid with an average of 80.84 and one top-5. Smith appeared in 42 rounds in her four seasons with the Lady Railsplitters, accounting for an 84.31 average and three top-10s.
“It’s hard to replace four seniors, especially four players that traveled in one year. They knew the program, the golf courses and the expectations, and there’s no substitute for the experience,” Stapleton said. “It’s going to be hard to replace those four, but that’s the nature of college golf. Players come and go, but that’s the reason you go out and recruit. We have to find players that can build on the culture those players helped create.”
Abigail Evans (Gillingham, England), Reagan Greene (Clarksville, Tennessee), Lise Malherbe (Mount Juliet, Tennessee) and Hannah Wilford (Middlesboro) are the four pieces of arguably the most talented recruiting class in the history of the women’s golf program.
An East Tennessee State University transfer, Evans, who will be a sophomore at Lincoln Memorial, had a deeply successful amateur career in England, winning the Faversham Ladies Match Play Championship three times, while capturing the Faversham Club Championship in both 2011 and 2012.
Greene helped lead Rossview High School in Clarksville to a state championship in 2014 and a runner-up finish in 2013, breaking the school record for lowest single-round score (68) and 36-hole score (142). Greene won two regular-season tournaments during her prep tenure and helped her squad compile an unblemished 48-0 record in 2014.
Malherbe – originally hailing from South Africa – completed her senior season at Wilson Central High School with a 78 scoring average. She placed in the top-8 of the 90th Tennessee School Days Tournament in Nashville, Tennessee, while also finishing 17th out of 61 competitors in the Tennessee Girls Junior Amateur.
Wilford joins the Lady Railsplitters after enjoying a successful prep career at Middlesboro High School. She is a product of the First Tee of Pine Mountain program, hosted by Donnie Caldwell at Wasioto Winds Golf Course.
“These girls are experienced as freshmen. It’s a difficult transition from high school to college golf, but they have played in high leverage, competitive tournaments for years,” said Stapleton. “Some of those tournaments were more stressful than the events they’ll play in here. They are going to have that confidence about them with less of the normal transition period.”
Stapleton Named Associate Head Coach
Former four-year standout and current assistant golf coach Maria Stapleton has been promoted to associate head women’s coach for the Lady Railsplitters for the 2015-16 season.
“I’m very excited about this opportunity. It’s an honor to coach for a team that you once played for. I’ve really been working hard with the girls, and I think we’ve already developed that bond. I think we’re going to have a successful year, and I’m excited for the first tournament.”
A 2012 graduate of Lincoln Memorial, Stapleton was hired as the assistant golf coach in January 2014. She is ranked sixth in program history with an 82.71 scoring average. She accounted for 12 top-10s in 37 events during her four-year career with the Lady Railsplitters.
“There are days I miss playing, but it’s been a crazy ride that’s really paid off,” Stapleton said when asked about the transition from student-athlete to coach. “It’s incredibly rewarding to see somebody that you’ve coached or even played with succeed.”
The fall season gets underway on Sept. 14, as the Lady Railsplitters tee off in the opening round of the Anderson Invitational at Cobb’s Glen Country Club in Anderson, South Carolina.