GREENVILLE, S.C. – No. 22 Furman will begin its quest to defend the league title Sunday at the 2016 Southern Conference Women's Golf Championship at the par-72 6,043 yard Savannah Quarters Golf Club in Pooler, Ga.
Furman, who won its 14th Southern Conference Championship in record-setting fashion in 2015, won nine straight SoCon titles from 1994-2002. Last season the Paladins posted a record-low 54-hole score of 858 for the win and placed a league-record five players on the All-Southern Conference Team.
The Paladins have produced a league-best 14 individual medalists at past tournaments, including junior Taylor Totland, who won last season's tournament and claimed SoCon Player of the Year honors. Paladin sophomore Alice Chen was honored as the league Freshman of the Year in 2015 after placing second behind Totland.
Furman's lineup for the 2016 championships will include senior Valentina Romero, junior Taylor Totland, sophomores Jacqueline Bendrick and Alice Chen, and freshman Haylee Harford. The Paladins, who have won two tournament titles in 2015-16 and finished as runner-up in two additional tournaments, boast the best scoring average in the SoCon this season with a team stroke average of 293.5. Furman has finished among the top three teams at six of eight tournaments this year.
Chen, who landed a spot on both the All-SoCon Team and the SoCon All-Freshman Team last year, leads the Paladins and ranks second in the SoCon with a 73.38 stroke average over 21 rounds this season. She finished second at the Clemson Invitational last weekend, tying her top career finish, and has placed among the top five in four of seven tournaments this season and among the top 10 in five competitions.
Totland, an All-American honorable mention selection in 2015, is second on the Furman team and third in the league with a 73.58 stroke average over 24 rounds this year. A two-time All-SoCon selection, Totland recorded a season-best finish of fourth at the Lady Paladin Invitational in September. She has finished among the top 10 individuals in three tournaments this season and among the top 20 in five of eight tournaments.
The top-ranked freshman in the league, Harford boasts a 73.63 stroke average over 24 rounds and is the top-ranked player nationally in the conference. She has two top-5 finishes, four top-10 finishes, and five top-20 finishes in eight tournaments this season. Harford scored a low-round of 68 twice this season, in the second round of the Palmetto Intercollegiate and the final round of the 3M Augusta Invitational. She tied for third, a season best, to lead the Paladins at the Palmetto Intercollegiate.
Bendrick, a member of the 2015 SoCon All-Freshman Team, is the ninth-ranked player in the SoCon this season after tallying a 74.67 stroke average over 21 rounds and boasts three top-20 finishes during her sophomore campaign. Romero, who earned All-SoCon honors for the second-consecutive year last season, ranks 12th among league players and has recorded a 75.21 stroke average over 24 rounds this season.
"Heading into the SoCon Championship, I really feel like we are playing our best golf," said Furman head coach Kelley Hester, who garnered SoCon Coach of the Year accolades following the Paladins' win last season. "We are coming off a strong showing at Clemson, and the girls are excited to head to Savannah as the defending champions. I have reminded the girls that this is what we work hard for all year, and we should enjoy the process. Our goal is to control the things we can control, and try to do the little things right. If we do, hopefully we will be in contention the final round."
The SoCon has three teams ranked among the top 100 in Golfstat's most recent ranking. Furman is the top-ranked league team this season, checking into the Golfstat ratings at No. 22 nationally, while Chattanooga enters the championship at No. 65. ETSU is rated No. 93. The winner of the SoCon Championship will earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Furman will tee off of No. 1 Sunday beginning at 9:40 a.m. in the first round of the 54-hole tournament. Admission to the tournament is free and fans are welcome. Live scoring for the tournament will be available at www.FurmanPaladins.com or at www.GolfStatResults.com.
Julie Paré, Furman Sports Information