Morningside women's golf coach Todd Sapp doesn't shy away from putting together a challenging schedule each season. Even with a young squad - two freshmen and one sophomore in the top four - the tough schedule stayed intact.
The Mustangs traveled to Phoenix for the Ouaz Invitational and during spring break, they competed in Alabama. Morningside finished third in Phoenix and fourth in Alabama.
Morningside returned back to the Midwest after that and snapped off a streak of five straight tournament victories, including the Great Plains Athletic Conference championship to secure a spot in the NAIA championship in Oklahoma City.
Because of the string of wins and the strong showings in Phoenix and Alabama, the Mustangs cracked the top 25 in the polls and are ranked No. 21 going into the national championship, which starts on Tuesday at Lincoln Park Golf Course.
Morningside sophomore Samantha Knight said the team will benefit from being battle-tested this past spring.
"We have that experience with top teams. We played Keiser (ranked No. 1) in Arizona and Oklahoma City (ranked No. 11) as well," Knight said. "We are playing with more teams that are ranked around us so it will be really competitive. When we played Keiser, it wasn't an intimidation factor, it was more of a respect of we want to get to that level and we want to be that good."
The Mustangs drew a 12:30 p.m. tee time at hole No. 1 for the first day of the tournament and will play with Rocky Mountain (ranked No. 16) and Olivet Nazarene. Those same three schools have a tee time of 7:34 a.m. at hole No. 10 on Wednesday. There is a cut after the first two days and then there will be an additional two days of golf for the teams that advance.
"We are hoping to do our best and right now we are looking to pass the cut and keep going," said Morningside's No. 1 golfer, Laia Badosa.
Badosa has had an instant impact on the Mustangs this season. The freshman, who hails from Girona, Spain, is the No. 1 golfer for the Mustangs and she's won the GPAC tournament medalist honors.
Fellow freshman Maria Nava, who joined the team from Monterrey, Mexico, has settled into the No. 2 spot for the Mustangs and Knight, a sophomore, is the No. 3 golfer. Senior Alex Mankle, a Milford native, is in the No. 4. Maria Zorrilla, a sophomore, played in the first two rounds of the GPAC championships in the fall and senior Mikaela Livengood golfed the final two rounds in the spring.
There hasn't been much separation among the golfers. Badosa is the No. 1 but Nava was only eight strokes behind her after four rounds of the GPAC championship. Knight was 16 shots behind and Mankle was 23 shots behind. Nava and Mankle both shot a 76 in the first round of the championships in the fall, Badosa and Knight shot a 72 and 73, respectively, on the second day. Badosa shot the two lowest rounds in the spring with an 80 and an 81 and no one shot over a 90.
Zorrilla had a 74 during one day of the GPAC championships and Livengood shot a 79 as well. Knight said the competition among the team pushes everyone.
"Coach usually tells us that we don't put numbers on the girls and everyone in the top five is a number one golfer," Knight said. "It just depends on the day of who is going to go out there and shoot the low rounds. We are all very supportive of the one that does shoot the low round. It's nice to know there is a girl there that will pick you up if you are having a bad round."
It's not the first time at Lincoln Park Golf Course for the women's team. Badosa said the team went down there when the Morningside men had an event in Oklahoma. So it gave the team a first-hand look at the course.
Badosa said the course is long but she feels it plays into the team's strengths.
"It's really long and us girls, the top five, we like to play long courses," Badosa said.