Freshmen leading the charge for women’s golf
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New faces have dominated the Mercer women’s golf team this season. After the resignation of seven-year head coach Gary Guyer, former Ole Miss coach Michele Drinkard was hired in June to lead the program.
She wasn’t the only acquisition. Freshmen Mary Janiga, Payton Schanen, Terese Romeo and Hailey Ko doubled the team’s roster size, as only four non-freshmen don orange and black: sophomores Hannah Mae Deems and Jaelyn Tindal, junior Marin Hanna and senior Meredith Owen.
But the class of 2019 hasn’t simply watched from home. Janiga, Schanen and Romeo have all competed in tournaments, with Janiga and Schanen holding the team’s two lowest scoring averages through 19 competitive rounds.
“All were late bloomers in maturing in their game,” Drinkard said. “When I got here, the first thing that was very apparent is how naturally competitive they all were and how much they love the game. That right there are your main ingredients to building a program.”
Drinkard said she researched the incoming class before accepting the job at Mercer. Once she saw some of the girls’ scores and accolades, Drinkard said it was “definitely the deciding factor” for her choosing Mercer.
Janiga, a native of Wellington, Florida, made it into the Round of 16 in the U.S. Girls Junior and the Round of Eight in the AJGA Polo. She also won the 2014 Florida Girls Junior and reached the Round of 32 in the 2015 U.S. Women’s Four Ball.
But her expectations weren’t lofty. Janiga said that she simply wanted to “make the traveling team and to live up to Mercer’s name.”
Over one semester into her collegiate career, Janiga has already recorded three Top-10 finishes and an individual victory at the Fighting Camels Classic on Oct. 20 after becoming only the second player in the tournament’s 21-year history to shoot under par.
Her season per-round scoring average of 73.74 leads the team.
“As a freshman, I think we are doing a pretty good job of dominating, and we needed to prove that we belong on the team,” Janiga said. “The team chemistry is great, and we all get along. They are family to me.”
Schanen, too, has already recorded an individual victory with her four-under par performance at Florida Gulf Coast’s Eagle Invitational Feb. 14, where the Bears brought home the team title, as well.
A native of Alpharetta, Georgia, Schanen has won over 30 times during her junior career on top of her second place finish in the 2015 GSGA Women’s Match Play and acknowledgement as the GSGA’ s 2015 Girls Player of the Year.
She has led the team in two of its three tournaments this spring, as either Janiga or Schanen have finished as the lowest scorer in all but one tournament the team has completed in 2015-16.
“We knew that we had to come in and step up and play well to contribute to the team,” Schanen said. “We just followed the good example that our coaches and the upperclassmen have set for us. The team as a whole is pretty chill, and we always try to bring positive energy to lift each other up.”
Schanen ranks second on the team with a 73.84 scoring average, only a tenth of a point behind Janiga. Over the course of the season, Janiga’s low round (69) is one lower than Schanen’s, and the Floridian has played only two less shots than the Georgian.
The third best average belongs to sophomore Jaelyn Tindal at 77.13.
Drinkard said it has been a huge lift to have two freshmen leading the way.
“When we met at our first spring team meeting in January, we looked around the table at each other and said, ‘OK we know each other now, so let’s change our mindset and go win every tournament we play,’” she said.
“We can, and we will,” Drinkard said. “We don’t care who we play, what their rankings are or any other information. All we care about is each other and how we are going to play our best on that particular course that day.”