Golf spotlight

Worldly FIU women’s team ready for NCAA regional

 

Special to The Miami Herald

When the FIU women’s golf season started in September, coach Joe Vogel did not know what to expect.

He knew he had some talent, but that talent was extremely young, led by Meghan MacLaren, a freshman who comes from Britain.

“It’s a little too early to tell how good they will be,” Vogel said at the time.

He found out quickly. In their first outing of the season, MacLaren and her golf partners tied for the championship of the University of Michigan’s Wolverine Invitational in Ann Arbor and MacLaren tied for first place in the individual standings.

Now, after a full season and winning a Sun Belt Conference championship, the Panthers are headed May 9-11 to the NCAA Division I East Regional at the par-72, 6,259-yard University Club in Auburn, Ala.

“We drew the East Regional, which is a good thing,” Vogel said, “because it keeps us on this side of the country.”

Vogel put his team through practice Tuesday at Biltmore Golf Course, but the shot-making was limited to nine holes as rain and lightning moved in.

The five players headed for the regional are freshman MacLaren of England, senior Tania Tare of New Zealand, freshman Shelby Coyle of England, senior Yolecci Jimenez of Venezuela and freshman Sophie Godley of Pembroke Pines.

MacLaren, Coyle and Godley were all named first-team Sun Belt Conference, and Tare and Jimenez were selected to the second team. Vogel was selected the Sun Belt Coach of the Year.

FIU enters the regional as the 18th seed of 24 teams in the three-round event.

Vogel was the first to admit, “The seeding doesn’t really matter that much once you get on the golf course.”

The top eight teams in each of three regionals will advance to the national championship tournament.

MacLaren, in particular, has been pressure-proof this year, winning three individual tournament titles.

At age 18, MacLaren left England to attend FIU. In many ways, she calls it a blessing, but it also has been difficult.

“I’m really happy that the people that have surrounded me have been great,” MacLaren said. “But being away from family and friends has not been easy.”

One thing she definitely enjoys is the diversity of the FIU squad — two players from England, one from Venezuela, one from New Zealand, one from Chile and two from the United States.

“We are all different,” MacLaren said, “but we come together as a team. Sometimes it helps that we all bring something different to the team.”

As for the pressure of the regionals, it doesn’t seem to faze MacLaren one bit.

“I don’t really feel any pressure,” she said. “The only pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself.”

As for finishing in the top eight teams at regionals and moving on to the national championship, MacLaren said, “There’s no reason we can’t go to nationals if we perform the way we know we can. It’s definitely a good possibility.”

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