Mary Harrison, Campus Carrier sports editor
Vikings golfers on both the men’s and women’s teams started the new year with season previews this month and have high hopes of post-season national appearances this school year.
The men’s golf team finished first overall at the Southern Athletic Association (SAA) Preview in Dickson, Tennessee, on Sun., Sept. 11. Sophomores Jack Stafford and Sam Patterson tied for first individually, and senior Blake Farbman ended in a tie for third with sophomore Charles Kyle.
The tournament gave players of the dual-season sport a taste of the course for the conference championship, scheduled for the end of April 2023.
Many of the 12 team members hit at least one of their two rounds under-par at the preview, according to Farbman.
“We’ve showed we have what it takes,” Farbman said. “We just need to be a little bit more consistent.”
Farbman expects that the Vikings’ depth of performance with a team of almost all underclassmen will surprise opponents and give the Vikings an advantage in tournaments this year. The 2022-23 roster includes two seniors, five sophomores and five freshmen.
“It’s good that we have a young team,” Farbman said. “Everyone’s hungry to get better.”
Farbman, along with Stafford and Patterson, make up the foundation of the travel team, according to Head Men’s and Women’s Golf Coach Brian Farrer, with over half of the other 9 team members are in tight competition for the fourth and fifth spots.
Both the “A” and “B” teams traveled to the men’s preview, though typically only an “A” team of the top five golfers, who qualify beforehand through inter-team competition, travels.
Farrer credits the standout class of first-year Berry students with creating a competitive qualifying process for the strong group of returning members, as well as contributing to positive team chemistry.
“I’m very excited to see where the men are going to be [this year],” the head coach said.
Farbman, the SAA individual champion for the 2021-22 season, would like to see the men’s team make a national appearance, something that has not happened during the senior’s time at Berry.
Winning the conference automatically gives a golf team an opportunity to play for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III national championship. Otherwise, the team’s NCAA ranking determines if they are invited to compete in the post-season.
The Berry men’s golf team finished second last year behind rival Oglethorpe University, which Farbman attributes to the Petrels’ increased experience with the championship course.
Regardless of their conference placement, the team hopes to better their chances for a post-season bid by showing well against high-ranked D-III teams outside of the SAA, like Emory University and Huntingdon College.
Farrer wants to see both of his teams to be in the top 15 of all D-III schools, as well as finishing the season as one of the top 2 teams in the conference.
To enable and prepare the men’s and women’s teams to compete on the national level, Farrer said he needs to make practices more efficient and focus on training student athletes in the mental aspects of golf.
“You don’t have a baseball coming at you at 90-plus miles [per hour],” Farrer said. “We have to get out of our own way and make better decisions out on the golf course.”
Farrer noted that the players on his women’s team have already showed growth since last year in their gametime decision-making.
“The players are trying to understand that the weight of the world is not on their next golf shot,” Farrer said. “We have to simplify things and just enjoy the walk.”
The women’s team placed 14th out of 18 teams at the NCAA Preview for D-III schools, played near Orlando, Florida last weekend, Sept. 18-20. Junior Teagan Fritts finished highest individually in a tie for 33rd, and senior Sarah Beth Scarborough placed 45th.
Scarborough called the course challenging but said that all five members of the traveling team hit well in the practice round last Saturday.
While none of the team’s four freshmen could crack into the lineup for the NCAA Preview, which Farrer attributed to a strong group of 6 returning students, Scarborough expects some will by the end of the spring season.
“The freshmen have come in and they want to push us, they want to travel with us, and that’s always good. It motivates us to all be our best for the team,” Scarborough said.
The new class also builds on the positive team morale, according to Scarborough and junior Fritts. Fritts, who finished 10th in the 2021-22 SAA Championship tournament, said good chemistry and team bonding was crucial to her performance last year.
A development that both Farrer and students consider a game changer for the women’s team this year is the addition of Bailey Plourde as a volunteer assistant coach. Plourde joins Ana Garcia, Farrer’s graduate assistant, to share the load of managing practices and traveling with the team.
A former member of the golf team at Centre College, Plourde is currently earning her master’s in business administration from Berry, which allowed her to play for the Vikings golf team last fall.
Plourde is unique as a coach because she was first the teammate of the current student athletes and knows the ins and outs of their game, Scarborough said, as well as how their mental state on the course.
“She knows us all well as players, and I think that makes a huge difference in how you coach and how that coaching is received by your player,” Scarborough said.
The women’s team finished fourth in the conference for the 2021-22 season, hitting a record season stroke average, according to Farrer. Scarborough said that if team members push themselves, with the addition of the freshmen, she feels chances for a conference win and post-season play are the best since her first year at Berry.
The women’s conference championships moved to Dickson, Tennessee, from Braselton, Georgia, where it has been held in recent years. Fritts feels that the different environment will benefit the team and help improve their performance.
“It’s kind of a clean slate that we can go into conference with,” Fritts said.
The men’s next tournament, the Gate City Invitational, is next Monday, Sept. 26, in Greensboro, North Carolina. The women will travel to Montgomery, Alabama, for the Montgomery Country Club Intercollegiate tournament, beginning this Sunday, Sept. 25.