Golf spotlight

Panthers are one for the books

 

Special to The Miami Herald

History can be a strange thing.

Some people think it’s just a recitation of the old and decrepit. Others think it’s something to strive for, something to achieve.

For coach Joe Vogel and his FIU women’s golf team, the latter certainly applies since the team just created some school history by winning the Sun Belt Conference championship for the first time last week and advanced to the NCAA Division I regional championships in Auburn, Ala., from May 9 to 11.

There are three regionals with 24 teams in each, meaning FIU is among the last 72 Division I teams in the nation surviving. Eight teams will advance from each of the three regionals to the national championship tournament May 21-24 in Athens, Ga.

“FIU has won a lot over the years, but not recently,” Vogel said, “so this is a big stepping-stone.

“I’m very proud of this team and these girls,” he said. “They have really come together. I’m actually super proud of them.”

The Panthers won the Sun Belt at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at The Shoals in Muscle Shoals, Ala., by shooting a three-day total of 8-over-par 872, to win by 16 strokes.

The title came with a distinct British accent.

FIU freshman Maegan MacLaren (Great Britain) became FIU’s first individual Sun Belt champion as she won with a 4-under 212 total through 54 holes. MacLaren edged Middle Tennessee’s Olivia Love, who was the only other golfer to shoot under par with a 2-under 214.

MacLaren, freshman Sophie Godley (also from Great Britain) and senior Tania Tare (New Zealand) were selected to the All-Tournament team. God- ley tied for fourth, and Tare was one stroke behind in fifth. Rounding out the team was senior Yolecci Jimenez (Venezuela) finishing 15th and junior Shelby Coyle (Pembroke Pines) ending up 39th.

“It was a fun three days,” Vogel said.

Vogel, is in his seventh year of coaching at FIU, has a multicultural approach to recruiting.

“I recruit out of Florida, South America and Europe,” he said.

He added that the European girls are particularly good at “playing in bad weather. They are used to it, the wind and rain. They just don’t seem to mind. When we travel up north, they are comfortable.”

As for the South Americans, he said, “They really like the culture of Miami, and they may have already visited Miami in the past by the time I start to recruit them. That’s an advantage, because they usually like the Miami atmosphere.”

And, he added, there is great talent in Florida, including Coyle, who comes out of Plantation American Heritage, which boasts one of the best high school golf programs — male and female — in the country.

The team is certainly a mix, but a mix that works.

“They get along really well,” Vogel said. “They study and go to class together. Four of the team members major in business, and they all live in the same dorm.”

Next year, Vogel is adding players from Ecuador, Colombia and Scotland.

As for the upcoming regional, Vogel simply said without making any bold predictions, “We’re a pretty well-balanced team. We’ll see how they do.”

This has probably been one of Vogel’s most satisfying years as FIU’s coach.

“I get a lot of satisfaction by building a team,” he said. “But more than that, seeing these girls grow and mature for four years is important to me.”

Then Vogel revealed his favorite moment with his golfers. And it is not on a golf course.

“Seeing them walk across the stage at graduation, that is really great,” he said.

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