Spartanburg, S.C. - The USC Upstate women's golf team returns to the links this weekend when it makes the short trip to Rock Hill to play in the Winthrop Invitational at the Rock Hill Country Club Saturday and Sunday. The Spartans are making their fifth trip to Rock Hill in its fifth year playing on the Division I level, and the second trip in the fall.
Upstate has not played since finishing 14th out of 23 teams at the Great Smokies Intercollegiate on Sept. 19-20. The Spartans had a solid tournament and lowered their team total by 16 strokes over last year's appearance in the Great Smokies, improving six spots on the leaderboard. The 297 turned in by the team in the first round of the 2011 Great Smokies Intercollegiate broke the school's single-round school record.
Upstate will look to carry the momentum gained from the Great Smokies into action this weekend at Winthrop. The Spartans will be one of eight teams in the tournament. Joining Upstate will be Appalachian State, Bethune-Cookman, The Citadel, Gardner-Webb, Presbyterian College, St. Francis and Winthrop.
The Winthrop Invitational is a 36-hole tournament with 18 holes being played each day Saturday and Sunday. The Rock Hill Country Club plays at 6,007 yards and is a par-72 layout.
Upstate head coach Todd Lawton and assistant coach Audrey Church will send the lineup of Rachel Lewis, Amanda Hall, Taylor Pleier, Brittany Lowe and Madison Bryant into action this weekend. Bryant is seeing her first action of the fall and Lawton is using his second different lineup in three events.
Lewis is off to a strong start and currently owns a 75.8 stroke average to lead the Spartans. Hall is second with a 78.3 stroke average. Lowe and Pleier are battling for the third spot on the team. Lowe is third at 79.3 with Pleier right behind at 79.8, giving four Spartans averaging under 80 on the season. Bryant saw action in five events and 10.5 rounds last year for Upstate.
Looking Back at the Great Smokies Intercollegiate
In the 2010 Great Smokies Intercollegiate, Rachel Lewis opened with a school record 69 to break the individual single-round school record by three strokes. At this year's tournament, another school record fell when the team turned in a 297 to break the Upstate's single-round school record by two shots. The performance helped lead the Spartans to a 14th-place finish out of 23 teams in the tournament, an improvement of six positions and 16 strokes over the 2010 result. Rachel Lewis led the way for Upstate. She finished at 2-over-par for the tournament to take 15th place out of 123 players. She shot rounds of 75 and 71. Amanda Hall, Taylor Pleier and Brittany Lowe each opened the tournament by carding 74. Pleier finished as the second-lowest Spartan with a 151 total after rounds of 74 and 77. Hall was the third Spartan at 153, while Lowe was the fourth-lowest at 154.
Lewis Back in Familiar Territory
Last year, Rachel Lewis finished as the low Spartan in seven of 12 tournaments. Through two tournaments this year, Lewis is back in familiar territory. She has finished as the low Spartan in each of the first two tournaments this year. She claimed a tie for 25th at the Terrier Intercollegiate before finishing 15th at the Winthrop Invitational. She leads the team with a 75.8 stroke average, 2.5 strokes ahead of Amanda Hall, who finished as the low Spartan in four events last year.
Lowering the Stroke Averages
Entering the Winthrop Invitational, Upstate boasts four players who own a stroke average under 80 for the season. Rachel Lewis leads the way with a 75.8 stroke average and is followed by Amanda Hall (78.3), Brittany Lowe (79.3) and Taylor Pleier (79.8). It is the first time since the program began in 2005-06 that four players have averaged in the 70s for the Spartans.
With the return of Rachel Lewis, Amanda Hall and Taylor Pleier and the addition of a strong recruiting class, Upstate has continued to make strides in improving over the last two years, specifically. Last season, the Spartans shot a low round of 310 on two occasions. In just two tournaments this season, Upstate has shot rounds of 297 (single-round school record) and 307. Upstate's average team round was 331.2 last season. Through two tournaments this year, the team is averaging 313.0, an improvement 18.2 strokes per round.
Church Returns to Upstate
As a founding member of the women's program in 2005, Audrey Church helped establish the tradition for the Upstate team. She has returned to help lead the program in another facet, this time serving as the assistant coach. Church was a mainstay in the lineup for four years from 2005-09 and was a solid contributor alongside Richelle Wedzik, Richia Wedzik and Julie Miller. She is also an assistant professional at Woodfin Ridge Country Club and head's up the Woodfin chapter of Spartanburg's First Tee program.