Whitewater Ashley Hofmeister.jpg

UW-Whitewater's Ashley Hofmeister 

No Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference school has ever won the NCAA Division III women's golf championship. 

UW-Stevens Point came the closest in 2009, when it finished second. However, since UW-Eau Claire finished third in 2012, only one WIAC school has finished inside the top 10 — UW-Stout in 2015 when it finished ninth.

It hasn't been for a lack of effort or a lack of talent, especially in the last three years.

Sure, Old Man Winter hasn't done teams in the upper Midwest any springtime favors the last two years. Then again, Mother Nature's propensity for dumping large amounts of rain on golf courses where the sun does frequently shine has, at times, minimized the edge often enjoyed by schools in warm-weather zip codes.

All of which could pave the way for this to be the year the WIAC leaves its mark on the Division III championship, despite what the GolfStat.com computer rankings might suggest.

UW-Whitewater was formally announced Monday among the 25 qualifiers for next week's NCAA Division III Championship at Bay Oaks Country Club in Houston. We've known the Warhawks would end the 2018-19 season there since last fall when they rallied for their second straight WIAC Championship.

What we didn't know is how great the opportunity in front of the Warhawks.

Only 13 of the 25 teams in the field are ranked inside the top 25 of the most recent GolfStat.com Division III women's rankings. It might have been fewer than half had perennial power and No. 2-ranked George Fox not taken advantage of an administrative mulligan in the Northwest Conference, where it finished second to Whitman College at last week's NWC Championship, but — because it had won two previous 36-hole gatherings of conference teams — was able to lay claim to a piece of the overall title and then edge the Blues in a one-hole playoff.

Whitewater comes in ranked No. 28, but seeded 14th among the 25 qualifiers that will play 54 holes before a cut to the top 15 teams for the final round. The Warhawks finished 12th at the 2018 championship at Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida, after entering the week ranked 40th.

Division III is the only outlier among the NCAA's three divisions without a regional component in qualifying teams to its national championship, a flaw that the NCAA might be wise to address, given the immense drop-off most years between Nos. 15 and 25 at the national championship. Moreover, the field at the women's championship lacks the depth that will be enjoyed at the Division III men's championship next week in Nicholasville, Kentucky, where 42 teams — including UW-Superior, champion of the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference — will play 36 holes before the field is trimmed to the top 18 teams.

Whitewater will have to be at its very best to crack the top 10 for the first time.

Carleton College is the nation's top-ranked team and, for the sake of leaving open the remote possibility for an upset, will be tough to beat. Eight states are represented on the roster for the Knights, who find a way to bring gifted golfers from as far away as Hawaii and China to their Northfield, Minnesota., campus.

George Fox, Grinnell (Iowa), DePauw (Indiana) and New York University round out the top five. The top 11 teams in the GolfStat.com ranking all made the field, but Washington & Lee (No. 15) and Illinois Wesleyan (No. 18) are the only other ranked teams beyond that heading to Houston.

Three of the four at-large berths went to schools whose conferences do not meet NCAA criteria for automatic qualifying berths: No. 3 Grinnell, No. 9 Washington University-St. Louis, No. 10 Methodist and No. 11 Redlands. Otherwise, the gap between the haves and the have-nots would be even more pronounced.

Whitewater is the first WIAC school since UW-Eau Claire in 2012 to qualify for the NCAA Division III Championship in back-to-back years. Four of the five golfers in the Warhawks' lineup a year ago will tee it up again next week at Bay Oaks, led by the 1-2 punch of Ashley Hofmeister and CheyAnn Knudsen.

They represent a golden era of golf in the WIAC.

Until two years ago, no school had ever shot 960 or better at the 54-hole conference championship. Two years ago, Whitewater and Stout both did it and, last fall, UW-Oshkosh joined the the Warhawks and Blue Devils in raising the bar in the WIAC.

And, for only the second time since the WIAC went to a 54-hole format in 2009, every team in the conference broke 1,100 — including UW-La Crosse, which revived its program for the first time since 1983, long before it became a WIAC tournament sport.

Whitewater will have the rest of the WIAC in its corner next week when it heads to Houston. There would be much for the conference to gain from the Warhawks cracking the top 10.

Last fall, after Claremont Mudd Scripps — the co-op athletic arm of Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College and Scripps College — brought the NCAA Division III championship back to the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, that league looked like the undisputed heavyweight champs. GolfStat likes national champions and it showed with three schools in the top 10 and five of its eight in the top 25 despite few playing more than three events.

By contrast, Golfstat didn't know what to make of Whitewater. Even after the Warhawks successfully defended their WIAC title, they spent most of the spring behind Oshkosh and Stout in the NCAA rankings.

That's what makes the opportunity afforded by the NCAA Championship so precious. The numbers will reflect teams' ability to successfully navigate the humps and bumps of a relatively flat layout at Bay Oaks — at the same time, on the same course — and, for Whitewater, how far it has come in a year's time.


2019 NCAA DIVISION III CHAMPIONSHIP FIELD

TEAMS

1. Carleton College

2. George Fox University

3. New York University

4. Grinnell College

5. DePauw University

6. Williams College

7. Rhodes College

8. Claremont McKenna-Harvey Mudd-Scripps

9. Washington University in St. Louis

10. Methodist University

11. University of the Redlands

12. Washington and Lee University

13. Illinois Wesleyan University

14. University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

15. Saint Mary’s College (Indiana)

16. University of Mary Hardin-Baylor

17. Transylvania University

18. Central College (Iowa)

19. Stevenson University

20. Aurora University

21. University of Mount Union

22. Drew University

23. The College of St. Scholastica

24. Gettysburg College

25. Westminster College (Pennsylvania)

INDIVIDUALS

1. Bailey Plourde, Centre College

2. Erica Whitehouse, Christopher Newport University

3. Taylor Beckwith, Whittier College

4. Chloe Levins, Middlebury College

5. Emily Lewis, Chapman University

6. Nicole Miller, Bethel University (Minnesota)

rob@killarneygolfmedia.com

Rob started covering the Wisconsin golf scene in 1987 at the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison & has been the only reporter covering all levels of state golf. He joined Killarney Golf Media in Sept. 2015 & helped launch Wisconsin.Golf in Jan. 2016.