Stefanie Shelton wants her East Tennessee State women’s golf team to act like it belongs when the NCAA East Regional begins on Thursday, mostly because she knows it does.
The Bucs qualified for the postseason by winning the Atlantic Sun Conference championship. They’re part of a 24-team regional field at Auburn, Ala. The top eight teams in the 54-hole tournament will qualify for nationals.
“It’s no longer that we’re in shock if we make it,” Shelton said. “We expect to make it every year. It’s more that we feel awful when we haven’t made it as a team.”
Shelton has been no stranger to postseason golf. After the Bucs earned an at-large regional bid in 2009, ETSU has had an individual qualify the past three years. Gabrielle Wahl did it last year as a freshman, while Nina Muehl qualified the previous two years.
“It’s definitely a process,” Shelton said. “It’s taking longer than I wanted to, but I can just see the development in the team.
“Nina, she was just in my office and she was telling me ‘Coach, it’s a different team. They actually believe they can go to nationals. Their games are so good right now.’ ”
ETSU has finished in the top 10 in all 11 of its tournaments, including a pair of victories.
Wahl leads the team in stroke average at 74.8, and ETSU has three players -- Wahl, junior Sian Evans and senior Chloe Garner -- who have shot in the 60s this year. That’s the kind of depth Shelton is counting on at Auburn.
“Honestly, if you asked me who our No. 1player is right now, I wouldn’t even know,” Shelton said. “It’s shifted so much this year. Sian and Gabriella have stepped up late in the season and have been more consistent, around par and under par.
“You definitely have to have that to be able to compete at nationals. You have to have at least two or three players consistently around par every day, if not under par. If you have those consistent players and then have your fourth player shoot under par, then you have a tremendous day.”
Junior Lourdes Lopez was the team’s low scorer in the fall, and freshman Vivienne Chin finished seventh in the A-Sun tournament.
ETSU already has a couple of national golf championships to its credit this spring. The school’s club team won the spring National Collegiate Club Golf Association championship in West Lafayette, Ind., last week.
Blake Howard, a graduate student and volunteer coach on Fred Warren’s ETSU men’s team, won the individual championship with two even-par rounds of 72 at Pete Dye’s Kampen Course, site of the 2008 NCAA Championships.
Two other former Milligan golfers, Jace DeVault and Ben Treadway, made the All-American team after strong finishes. DeVault was three over par, while Treadway, the reigning East Tennessee Amateur champion, was seven over.
ETSU, which also won this event last spring, beat runner-up East Carolina by 19 strokes.
Also playing for ETSU were Matt Bowers, the team’s captain, Ken Miller, Matt Smith, Matt Chambers and Logan Barnett.
The NCCGA is for golfers not currently on NCAA varsity teams. Graduate students are eligible.
Elizabethton Golf Course will be the site of the popular Dennis Walters Golf Show on June 21.
Walters’ show is described as a combination of “golf lessons and life lessons.”
Walters is a former professional golfer who was injured in a golf-cart accident in 1974. He is paralyzed from the waist down and does his amazing routine, including trick shots with all kinds of clubs, while sitting on a swivel seat mounted on a cart.
He’s made more than 3,000 appearances since starting his show in 1977.
Walters is one of 11 honorary lifetime members of the PGA of America. He was presented with the PGA’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award, in 2008. Previous winners included Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Byron Nelson and Gene Sarazen.
Admission will be free at Elizabethton Golf Course. The show begins at 11 a.m. and will be followed by lunch at noon and junior golf activities at 1 p.m.
The Milligan men’s team is headed to the NAIA national tournament next week. The Buffaloes won the Appalachian Athletic Conference qualifier in April to earn a spot.
Tony Wallingford, the AAC’s coach of the year, will take his team to Creekside Golf Club in Salem, Ore., for the national tournament, to be held May 14-17 Milligan last qualified in 2007.
Adam Shanks won the local qualifier for the Tennessee State Open with a five-under-par 66 at Cattails at MeadowView.
Tanner Davis and Josh McWhorter tied for second with 68s. Also qualifying were Glenn Hudson (69) and Jake Spott (69).
The State Open will be played May 21-23 at Gaylord Springs Golf Links in Nashville.
The local qualifier for the Tennessee State Amateur will be held at Ridgefields Country Club in Kingsport on July 15.
The entry deadline is July 3. The State Amateur is scheduled for Aug. 6-9 at Chattanooga Golf and Country Club.