Augusta already has 3 titles. 2010-2014-2016
Ferris State, Southern Arkansas Aim For 'Making History'
What do Will Schusterick, Paige Pierce, the San Francisco Giants, and the Ferris State Bulldogs have in common?
They’ve all got that win championships every-other-year thing locked down. Schusterick and the Giants have accomplished the feat three times, Pierce four. And now the Bulldogs are trying their best to play catch-up.
The 2015 and 2017 National Collegiate Disc Golf Champions take a two-shot lead into Saturday’s final day of NCDGC Championship Flight competition at the International Disc Golf Center, as their team total sits at a 12-under par 463 after 36 holes at the W.R. Jackson and “Steady” Ed Headrick Memorial courses Friday. North Carolina State gives chase at 10-under, and from there it’s a steep drop off: Liberty University is in third place with a 3-over par 478, followed by University of Wisconsin-Platteville at 4-over. Missouri S&T rounds out the top five with a 6-over par 481 total.
The Women’s Flight found upstart Southern Arkansas University expanding its lead to 12 shots, as the Muleriders take a 28-over par 359 into Saturday’s final. The defending champions from Liberty will need a heroic effort to battle back from their 40-over par 371, while the University of Oregon’s A team makes up third place at 46-over.
Though the Championship Flight has arguably developed into a two-horse race, that’s double the number of steeds who had a chance to take down the title heading into the 2018 final, when Mississippi State -- who now sit in a three-way tie for 18th place -- took a 23-shot lead into Saturday. But Ferris State fifth-year senior Sam Mrdeza said he wasn’t surprised that scores were tight this year.
“It’s a national championship -- I wouldn’t expect to not have to work for it,” Mrdeza said. “Teams are gonna be playing their best out here.”
Indeed, NC State has hung tough with the two-time champs from Michigan. The Wolfpack were only down one shot heading into Friday, then leapfrogged Ferris State during the morning round at Jackson by scoring a 6-under par 62 to jump ahead by one.
“They were a lot better than we expected,” Mrdeza admitted. “They were keeping pace very well. It’ll be a good battle for tomorrow.”
After a hot start at Jackson, Ferris grew sluggish and kept that feel for the rest of the round. Their lunch break proved useful, though, as they kicked it back in gear when they started the afternoon 18 at Headrick. The squad -- Mrdeza, Ryan Brophy, Carl Bouman, and Patrick Nemmer -- cleaned up on the green to go 15-under par on the 7,495-foot track.
“I think everyone's putts were a little better. I think that was the huge breaker,” Mrdeza said. “Everyone was putting more consistently. We got in the groove, we could feel the chemistry together.”
That was a shift from last season, when Bouman and Nemmer were new to the Ferris State A team. With an extra year of experience -- plus a combined nine additional NCDGC appearances from Brophy and Mrdeza -- at their disposal, the group was playing with some added swagger.
“I think last year it might have gotten to [Bouman and Nemmer] a little bit, the pressure and whatnot,” Mrdeza said. “This year I think they’re ready.”
That veteran feeling stood in stark contrast to the ladies at the helm for Southern Arkansas, Madi Chitwood and Whitney Brown. The former is playing her second NCDGC, while the latter only became a PDGA member earlier this year, and that lack of experience -- plus the fact that they hadn’t competed against another women’s team during the season before this week -- would seem to work against their favor. So to take a dozen strokes into Saturday, then, registered as a win.
“I definitely did not expect it -- it is definitely surprising,” Chitwood said. “We all thought we had a chance, but I don’t think that we thought we would be in the position we are now.”
Chitwood said she and Brown did not fare as well during the afternoon soiree with the Jim Warner Memorial course, as it broke the duo away from the comfort they had built up over three prior rounds at Headrick.
“Also, we have played a lot of disc golf in the last few days,” Chitwood said. “I think we weren’t in the right place mentally.”
The team will get a boost in that department with the final taking place back at Headrick, but first Chitwood will have to sustain the individual final 9 at Warner. She takes a mere two-shot lead into that competition over Oregon’s Reily Warren, and the junior nursing student admitted she was nervous. But she also wasn’t afraid to consider that on Saturday evening she had the potential to hold not one, but two national titles.
“I have thought about it,” Chitwood said. “But I’m not -- our doubles round I’m pretty comfortable with the lead. But singles I only have a two-stroke lead, so I’m definitely not comfortable at all with that.”
In other action at the IDGC, Liberty and Ferris State will duke it out in both the First and Second Flight team finals, with the Flames holding a four-shot and one-shot lead in each respective division. The women’s individual field, meanwhile, will be without defending champion Alex Lambert, who withdrew prior to Friday’s doubles rounds. Lambert had been battling a shoulder injury entering the tournament.
Mrdeza -- who is only one stroke out of first place heading into the singles finals -- had his own aspirations. He and Brophy have the chance to become the first individual competitors to play on three championship-winning squads, and he didn’t want to let the opportunity slip their collective grasp.
“That’s why I want it really bad: making history,” Mrdeza said. “...I want it so bad, and obviously I’m very nervous about it, but we just gotta -- as long as we have a good mental game I believe in my team. I believe in myself.”
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