CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif. - Solid and steady, the Whitman College women's golf team slipped into seventh place - just two strokes out of sixth - in Thursday's opening round of the Spring Fling Invitational at Desert Princess Country Club.
St. Edward's University, ranked No. 2 nationally in NCAA Div. II, bolted to the front of the 10-team field, posting the day's low team score at 306.
Three more nationally ranked DII schools fill the next three spots. No. 14 Western Washington is second at 313, sitting two strokes in front of No. 22 Augustana and four shots ahead of No. 18 Druary.
South Dakota State, an NCAA DI school, is in fifth place at 318 with UC-San Marcos, No. 15 in the NAIA ranks, close behind at 330, two strokes ahead of Whitman.
The Missionaries, ranked No. 19 at the DIII level, are four shots up on Redlands, which holds a No. 22 DIII ranking.
Rounding out the field are Whitworth, which trails Whitman by 15 strokes, and the NAIA's Biola, which is well back in 10th place with a 372 total.
"This was a great experience playing against a field of this caliber," Whitman coach Skip Molitor said. "This was very similar to playing in the Division III national championship tournament."
Whitman's pre-tournament goal was to beat the other Division III schools as well as the NAIA teams, Molitor said. "We played solidly today and are positioned to accomplish our goal, and to hopefully catch one of the NCAA DII or DI teams ahead of us.
"It's important that we beat Redlands in this tournament," he added. "We are presently ranked No. 4 in the West Region while Redlands is No. 6."
Catelyn Webber paced Whitman in the opening round with an 82.
Tate Head and Elaine Whaley were right behind with matching rounds of 83.
Katie Zajicek completed Whitman's team score with an 84.
Kelly Sweeney, one of Whitman's two first-year players, birdied her last hole to finish at 84. Sara Debs, also a first-year player, shot 86 while Caitlin Holland finished with a 93.
"We were consistent with our countable scores in the 82 to 84 range," Molitor said. "We are hopefully on the verge of lowering our scores across the board in Friday's final round."
Augustana's Maggie Leland and Western Washington's Claire Rachor both shot 1-over par 73 to set the pace in the individual scoring.
Temperatures for Thursday's round were in the mid-80s.
"This is a challenging course with a lot of water and several holes with out of bounds on both sides," Molitor said. "This is great preparation for our Northwest Conference Spring Classic later this month."