By ANDY WOLF
Believing is half the battle.
Prior to this season, the University of Findlay women’s golf team was just happy to have qualified for the NCAA Division II Women’s Golf Championship.
After finishing seventh and eighth the past two years, the Oilers are back for the third straight season and ready to compete with a sense of belonging.
Findlay is one of five teams in a field of 12 that qualified the past three years.
The Oilers will tee off at 8:20 a.m. today for the four-round tournament at CommonGround Golf Course in Aurora, Colorado.
“We feel, you look at averages, this is by far the best team we’ve ever had,” third-year UF coach Dominic Guarnieri said. “Our team average is almost seven strokes better than it was the last two years. In saying that, if we can put it all together and play our game we can have a good chance to improve on those seventh and eighth place finishes.”
Aurora is 5,400 feet above sea level, and Guarnieri believes the thin Colorado air will create conditions UF’s players are not accustomed to.
The Oilers recently took third at the East Regional to qualify, carding a 921 (304-307-310) — the second-lowest three-round score in team history.
Lone senior Kasey Petty again led the way with a 215 to finish as runner-up and tying her 54-hole school-record set the previous week at the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament.
“She feels if she gets her putter going, the sky is the limit,” Guarnieri said. “Her ball-striking at regionals, first round she hit every green, which is almost unheard of. Also, when she’s not hitting it the best she knows how to get the ball in the hole.”
Petty is no stranger to playing her best golf on the biggest of stages.
She recorded the top two 72-hole finishes in UF history at the national level. Petty carded a 292 in 2014 to set the record and finish 12th and followed with a 305 last year to tie for ninth.
Her fourth-round 71 tied the fourth-lowest score in UF history.
She bettered that this year with a 70 in the first round of the GLIAC and a 67 at regionals.
“Once I was able to break 70 it was just, ‘OK, the door is wide open,’ ” Petty said. “I know I’m capable of shooting low any day. I think for sure it’s a possibility even if there are little flaws in my game I can just tweak it and be confident in what I can do.”
The thought of playing in her last collegiate tournament has slowly begun to sink in. Her own expectations have grown exponentially during the past four years.
“Freshman and sophomore year I was just kind of along for the ride,” Petty said. “I really started working hard my junior year. I have bigger and better plans for this year, especially nationals.”
Junior Shelby Warner also has participated in the last two national tournaments.
She tied for 36th with a 307 (78-75-81-73) as a freshman and her 320 (85-83-74-78) as a sophomore was good enough for a tie for 46th.
Now the team’s No. 2 golfer, Warner helped pace the Oilers at regionals, tying for eighth with a 225 (73-77-75).
“She’s had ups and downs in the fall and spring, but came to play at regionals,” Guarnieri said. “She has a ton of talent. Her ball-striking is her strength. If she can get some putts to fall, she can go low, as well. She’s shot 69 earlier this year, as well.”
The national experience doesn’t stop there.
No. 5 golfer, sophomore Kelsey Koesters competed last year, tying for 63rd with a 333.
She’ll be the first to tee off for UF this year, in order on down to Petty.
“In the fall she wasn’t really even in the top five, but has worked hard over the winter,” Guarnieri said. “Now at regionals, she helped us out a lot. She’s got a lot of confidence going into nationals, as well. She grinds it out and doesn’t make too many big numbers which helps us out a lot.”
Rounding out the rotation is a pair of freshmen — Makenzie Torres and Samantha Hatter — who took 13th and 15th, respectively, at regionals.
“They’re going to be ready to go,” Guarnieri said. “Regionals for them, with freshmen, is almost a bigger stage, as far as nerves, than nationals. They can say ‘we made it to nationals. Let’s just go play our game and have fun.'”
The Oilers have made the national tournament all three years under Guarnieri.
It’s quickly becoming realistic and an obtainable standard.
“That’s been part of our (method of operation),” Guarnieri said. “We tell girls our goal is to make it to national championship every year. We’re just going deeper.
“We’re losing our best player (Petty) to ever come through here. We have to get deeper and more balanced, but we are heading in right direction for that.”
Augustana (South Dakota), Northeastern State , Missouri Western State, Nova Southeastern (Florida), Rollins College (Florida), Saint Leo (Florida), Tarleton State (Texas), Dallas Baptist (Texas), West Texas A&M, Indianapolis, Grand Valley State.
Daniela Martinez, Central Oklahoma; Caroline Fredensborg, Arkansas Tech; Rachel Gray, Concordia-St. Paul; Felicia Leftinger, Florida Tech; Paloma Vaccaro, West Florida; Elaine Wood, Montevallo (Alabama); Erica Wang, California Baptist; Audrey Meisch, Oklahoma Christian; Sterling Hawkins, Academy of Art (California).