In five short years, Sara Doell has guided the Seton Hall women’s golf program to a feat that has not been accomplished by one of the 14 Division I athletic programs at the University in over a decade – win back-to-back Big East championships.
On Monday night, the Pirates tuned to the Golf Channel almost a year to the day since their first NCAA Regional appearance, waiting to see where they would be playing in the field of 72. Just over a week before, The Hall took the Big East title by just one stroke over Georgetown in Daytona Beach, Fl., to salvage the automatic bid to the regionals.
As if times could not be better for Doell’s Pirates, they got exactly what they wanted – a trip to Lonnie Poole Country Club in Raleigh, N.C.
For the first time in 13 years, the regional format has changed. Instead of three regions representing 24 teams and the top eight in each region moving on to nationals, there are four regions with 18 teams each. The top six in each region will advance.
The four-region pool also included sites in Texas, Utah and Indiana.
Going into the Big East Championship, there certainly was a different vibe for the program a year after SHU had won the crown.
“The pressure was on, and I won’t lie, it was tough to manage,” senior Ali Kruse said. “But, the thing about this group is we never stop fighting. What made this year special is we found a way to win after the ups and downs of the tournament.”
Kruse has formed a senior duo with Erin McClure, and the two have been at the forefront of the program’s rise to the national spotlight. McClure finished in second with Kruse in fourth in the Big East Championship, but it’s more than just their performance on the course.
“I’m so proud of their maturation process throughout the past four years,” Doell said. “Ali and Erin are the rocks for this team, and we would be nowhere without them. But I also think back to their freshman season, and where they were. As not only players, but as people, I have loved to see how they have grown here at Seton Hall. They have set a standard for this program.”
What makes Raleigh such a great fit for Seton Hall?
For one, the layout of Lonnie Poole is very similar to LPGA International, where the Pirates just got done winning the Big East title in Fla.
Not only does it fit for Seton Hall, but McClure also has experience playing at Lonnie Poole.
“I actually got to play on the course when I was in junior golf, so I’m looking forward to playing somewhere that I have knowledge of going in,” the senior said.
The Pirates’ lineup will likely include McClure, Kruse, freshman Cassie Pantelas and juniors Megan Tenhundfeld and Karlie Zabrosky.
Entering the final round of the Big East Championship with the lead, Tenhundfeld finished in seventh individually. Just as she rose to the occasion in the conference title, the junior is not fazed by the national level of competition.
“To be honest with you, I have always loved pressure,” Tenhundfeld said. “While others don’t know how to respond to the stressful stages, I don’t think I have ever once thought a level of competition was bigger than me.”
The NCAA Regionals will be held from May 7-9.
Seton Hall is the #16 seed in the 18-team field. South Carolina is the top seed, followed by LSU and Mississippi State. Behind the Pirates are #17 Wichita State and #18 Fairleigh Dickinson. For the top six out of the region who advance, the championship finals will be held May 22-27 at The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla.