Women's college golf: William Penn fall short of defending Heart title

Apr. 30—LAKE RATHBUN — The wind continued to pick up. The course only got more and more challenging.

Emma Lawson just had to hold steady. By avoiding any major mistakes, the William Penn junior began to climb the leaderboard.

When it was all over last Tuesday at the Heart of American Athletic Conference women's golf tournament, Lawson found herself sharing second place with Mount Mercy Mercy senior Breanna Felderman earning all-conference honors for the first time in her collegiate career. Ultimately, Lawson was able to record 14 pars and a birdie on the par-5 fifth hole at The Preserve Course on Lake Rathbun, moving up from eighth place after posting a pair of rounds of 81 to finish with a two-over-par 74, finishing with a 236 total coming up just three shots short of catching Mount Mercy sophomore Aoi Ito for the individual Heart title.

"It was just a matter of holding steady and focusing on playing for my team," Lawson said. "In this scenario, it's definitely a team sport. My team's going to have rough days, but we're here to pick each other up. Focusing on them instead of solely myself was the key to really playing well."

Lawson two-over par score of 74 was the best final round among the two teams that were left to battle it out for the Heart of America team championship. William Penn entered the final round needing to overcome a seven-stroke deficit against Mount Mercy in hopes of winning a third consecutive Heart team championship.

Despite Lawson's stellar round, the Statesmen could not gain any traction in making a final round comeback. Mount Mercy produced the best round of the tournament on Tuesday, coming home with a team score of 307 doubling their seven-shot lead finishing with a team total of 938 dethroning the two-time Heart champion Statesmen by 14 strokes.

"Mount Mercy has been pretty tough all year," Lawson said. "They're a great group of girls. They're really nice to play with, but they're also tough competitors."

Ito opened the final round tied with Mount Mercy teammate Jordan Pillay for the individual lead with several golfers including William Penn junior Olivia Lange, a four-time Heart of America Player of the Week award winner this season who became the first Statesmen golfer to finish a 54-hole tournament under par on the way to a winning effort earlier in the month at the Susie Maxwell Berning Classic. Lange, already well positioned to earn all-conference honors for the third straight year, entered the final round just three strokes behind Ito and Pillay putting the individual conference title well within reach.

Lange got as close as one shot back of Ito on the back nine of the final round. The 11th hole, however, blunted Lange's momentum as a bogey on the par 4 combined with a birdie by Ito causing a two-stroke swing giving Ito back her three-stroke advantage.

"At the end of the day, par is what wins. It doesn't matter of how many birdies you have, if you post too many bogeys, you're not going to win," Lange said after finishing her final round with six bogeys on the final eight holes. "The last three holes were where it was the most windy. It was a major factor on those closing holes."

Lange joined Lawson, Gabriana Franco and Carlee Frayne as four members of the William Penn women's golf team to earn all-conference honors. Despite a successful season that has included three team tournament titles and 14 rounds in the 70s by Lange, the Statesmen season came to a somewhat sudden end coming up 14 strokes shy of a national tournament berth.

"This semester was a great one for me, but I was hoping it would end differently," Lange said. "It is what it is. Fortunately, we have another year to get back there."

Mount Mercy, meanwhile, will carry the program's first Heart of American Athletic Conference championship just a couple hours east down Interstate 80 to compete in the NAIA Women's Golf National Tournament being held at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Illinois beginning on May 14.

"It's one of those moments you just won't ever forget," Mount Mercy head coach Chris Shank said. "This is something the girls will remember forever. They'll be able to look at this years from now and be proud of this accomplishment."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.