Sophia Rohleder already has been accepted into medical school at Marian University in Indianapolis for next year. The Evansville senior, who grew up in town, is finishing off a biology degree. Those are two statements that don’t often apply to a college athlete.
But true to form, after Rohleder and her Evansville team returned home from the Missouri Valley Conference Championship on April 20, it was time to dive headfirst into academic finals. It’s not a very exciting follow-up to the conference title that scored the Aces an historic postseason berth, head coach John Andrews admitted, but it’s the realistic one.
“Honestly, almost since the time we found out on the Golf Channel where we were going (for NCAA Regionals) and made some brief plans, most of the focus has been on finals,” Andrews said.
No Evansville sports team has won a conference title since in six years, and the women’s golf team was far from projected to win this one. Evansville finished seventh of 10 teams at the 2019 MVC Championship. Andrews thought the projection was fair. Rohleder and her teammates let it serve as a bit of motivation, especially after a difficult past year. Evansville’s golf teams, like those at many schools, didn’t compete in the fall.
“Our scholarships got taken from our program this year, our athletic scholarships, so we were kind of stressed out and we were just telling (our athletic director), if we won our Missouri Valley Conference, that would just be our No. 1 recruiting tool going into next year,” Rohleder said. “So when we won…we were like this is exactly what we told everyone we were going to do and we did it, and it just feels great.”
— UE Golf (@UEAthleticsGolf) April 28, 2021
Evansville’s story is one for the books, beginning with a 36-hole opening day at Bogey Hills Country Club in St. Louis, when the Aces built a 10-shot lead over Northern Iowa. With a spring snowstorm looming, chatter in the coaches meeting indicated the tournament might be reduced to 36 holes. Instead, the final round was moved up to an 8:30 a.m. shotgun start.
Most players were through six holes by the time the rain started. It quickly turned to snow. Through 12 holes, Evansville had a 13-shot lead, but it began to wither as Northern Iowa staged a gritty charge of its own.
“The last six holes were really hard,” Andrews said. “The ball was picking up snow, the ball was bigger on the fairway, the ball wouldn’t roll on the putting green.
“The ball became the problem.”
Andrews knows people will look at the score someday and have no idea what transpired. Northern Iowa and Evansville finished 54 holes knotted at 90 over par, with both coaches frantically trying to calculate scores before their players had come in to shed layers.
“We brought them back inside for 10-15 minutes,” Andrews said, “which is what we didn’t want to do.”
In more than two decades coaching, Andrews has never experienced a day quite like it, but what happened next is truly seared in his memory banks. Andrews sent freshman Mallory Russell to the tee box at the par-4 18th first, and Russell didn’t even wait for the official to finish laying out the terms of the playoff before she teed up her hybrid.
“She’s so fast. She fires one, she just smokes it down the fairway and I think we won the playoff right there,” Andrews said.
He knew he sent the right person out first.
Evansville came out on top in the five-woman, count-every-score playoff, and when Andrews went in for the handshake with Bermel, his team took the cue. He heard them erupt behind him.
“I heard them. And that was the best feeling was hearing the ladies behind me,” he said. “Besides Mallory Russell’s shot, that’s what I’ll always remember.”
— UE Golf (@UEAthleticsGolf) April 20, 2021
Someday, Dr. Rohleder will have a wild story to tell about the day her team won a conference title in the snow. At one point that day, with various parts of her body going numb from the cold and snow building up on the golf course, she asked herself what she could do to give herself an edge.
“I was just thinking sand shot-type swings – all my weight in the front, keeping the ball low because it was still pretty windy and playing as smart as I could,” she said.
Andrews was recently named conference coach of the year but wanted to share the honors with Jim Hamilton, who recently retired after 18 years at Evansville. Andrews, who was hired at Evansville in November 2020 after a 20-year coaching career at IUPUI ended in 2017, and Hamilton speak every day.
“I was just very lucky that Coach Hamilton left me a stacked deck,” Andrews said. “And we haven’t done anything. In the fall, I’ll probably start doing things a little bit more my way.
“But this year, Sophia was coming to practice in the fall and the last thing I wanted to do was change things up during a COVID year, it’s so hard to do anything anyway. I didn’t change much up, I tried to let them do what they’ve been doing, which was very hard as a coach.”
Now, Andrews leads the Aces to Ohio State’s Scarlet Course for NCAA Regionals, where he played the Big Ten Conference Championship while on the Indiana roster in 1987 (though the golf course has since been redone). He’s the kind of guy who will do 10 push-ups for a birdie, 20 for an eagle. A sand save merits 10 sit-ups and a chip-in gets 20.
The real question is, how many for a conference title?
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/05/09/ncaa-womens-golf-evansville-missouri-valley-conference-snowstorm-regionals/