ANGOLA, Ind. - With first-year Missionary Kelly Sweeney tied for second place in the individual scoring, a young and surprising Whitman College women's golf team jumped into a tie for sixth place after Tuesday's opening round of the NCAA Division III National Championship Tournament at Zollner Golf Course in Angola, Ind.
Whitman, seeded No. 12 in the 19-school field, carded a 316 team score for its top four golfers.
The Missionaries are just two strokes out of third place and nine shots behind Williams, the first-round leader.
Sweeney started her day with two birdies and finished with a 1-over 73 on the 5,990-yard course. She is tied for second place with Illinois Wesleyan's Rose Kelly and trails the leader, Georgiana Salant of Williams, by a single stroke.
Three sophomores filled out the Whitman team score. Elaine Whaley shot 80, Catelyn Webber was right behind at 81 while Katie Zajicek added an 82. Junior Tate Head also played for Whitman, shooting 85.
"We're off and running," Whitman coach Skip Molitor said after his team logged its first round.
"This was a very solid start for a a young team that hasn't been in this kind of situation before. We shot our second-best round of the spring, and to do that under these circumstances says a lot about our players and their ability to stay focused and composed."
After Sweeney knocked down a pair of birdies early in the day, a double-bogey on the fourth hole dropped her back to even par. She played the rest of her round at 1-over, losing a shot to bogey on the next-to-last hole.
Sweeney's round of 73, her best as a collegian, included four birdies, three bogeys and a double.
Whaley survived a triple-bogey seven on the front side en route to her 80. She carded six pars and three bogeys on the back. "Elaine was absolutely crushing the ball off the tee today," Molitor said. "She was one of the longest hitters on the course."
After four pars and five bogeys on the front, Webber finished her 81 with a back nine that included a birdie and a triple-bogey.
Zajicek forged her 82 on the strength of her short game, Molitor said. "Katie started and finished her back nine with double-bogey but had seven pars in between," he said. "That's a good sign that she's getting her swing back. Once Katie gets dialed in, she can play with anyone."
While Head's first-round score wasn't used for Whitman's team total, her scores will drop over the next three rounds, Molitor predicted. "Tate is hitting the ball very well, even though she ran into trouble on a few more holes than her teammates. She will bounced back."
The 72-hole tournament continues Wednesday with round two. Whitman players will be bundled again into threesomes with players from Williams and St. Olaf's. Their Wednesday tee times start at 1:20 p.m. (EDT).
After the second round is finished, teams will be re-seeded and re-grouped for the last two rounds on Thursday and Friday.
While Williams sits in first place at 307, defending champion Methodist University - the only school to ever win an NCAA DIII women's golf title - is just three stokes back in second place.
St. Olaf and DePauw are tied for third at 314, but eight more schools (Whitman included) are no more than 10 strokes out of third.