Panthers savor return to winning ways
For coach Vici Pate Flesher, the victory by her High Point University women’s golf team In the Terrier Invitational two weeks ago was a welcomed return to winning.
For members of her team, the program’s first tournament victory in eight years wasn’t something out of the ordinary.
“It meant much more to me than the kids because they didn’t know the background of the history of the team,” Flesher said. “So to a lot of them, winning is not unfamiliar. They’ve got the monkey off their back.”
Flesher did plenty of winning at Methodist College in Fayetteville, taking teams to seven straight NCAA Division III champions before tackling the job of turning around a struggling program at HPU. She found that she had a lot of work to do to get the Panthers anywhere near that level.
“For me, looking back in retrospect, three years ago, it was tough.” Flesher said. “It’s nice to see it get to the point that the kids don’t expect to do so poorly. In fact, now it’s quite opposite. They expect something better.”
What did she do to move the program in a different direction? Recruiting. Two years ago she attracted Grier Bennett, a two-time Arkansas 3A champ. Last year, she attracted one of the top players in North Carolina, Casey Ward of Chapel Hill, and Tan Cheeranont of Thailand, who was a top player in Indiana. They year, she added Sarah Bae, the top junior player and 4A state medalist champion in North Carolina and Danielle Fuss, the 2012 NYSGA junior girls state amateur champion.
“When I took the job, the AD (Craig Keilitz) said ‘Vici, you just need to change the culture,” Flesher said. “The only problem was the culture had not been very good for several years. It took some time. The first year, I wanted to give the seniors a memorable experience. The second year, we didn’t have any seniors and the third year, I focused on the seniors again because the first few years for those kids weren’t very fun.
“But, I knew the situation. When I took the job at Methodist, I was joining a program that was winning and here, I joined one that was limping a little. This year is different. The expectations of these girls are higher. You can see they’re starting where I wanted the other teams to start months ago and they are thinking bigger and bigger. It’s big difference.”
The expectations of the current players are such that Bae remained relatively calm while the final scores were being totaled at the Terrier while Flesher got excited as she realized the Panthers might win.
The Panthers finished with a 588, which beat the school record for 36 holes by 11 strokes. The old mark was set during the 2005-06 season. They also shot a school 18-hole record 294 on the first day and matched it on the second day.
The Panthers were led by Bae, who took medalist honors in her first college tournament.
“It was so nice to see those scores come in,” Flesher said. “I saw that Sarah wasn’t showing a lot of emotion, and when I asked her about it, she said, ‘get used to the (good scores), coach,’”
The Terrier win, the third in program history, came by 6 shots over host Wofford, which was followed by SCAD-Savannah, Appalachian State and USC Upstate.
The Panthers will try for another win starting Monday in the Myrtle Beach Invitational.
“The girls are very self-motivated,” Flesher said. “They like winning. I’m going to roll with that right now.”