Bowling Green State University women's golf head coach Stephanie Young began her tenure in the middle of the 2005-06 season. The Falcons were in the middle of a downturn in the team's fortunes. After finishing sixth at the 2003 Mid-American Conference Championships, they had slipped to eighth in 2004 and ninth in 2005.
Young attacked the job with intensity, purpose and, most importantly, a clear vision and philosophy for how to build the program.
Over the next several seasons, the team still struggled at the MAC Championships, but there was no question that the team was getting better. Young searched not just for great players but for great players who would fit within the plan, and find those players she did.
Flashes of brilliance became more common and, by her fifth full season (2011-12), the Falcons were ready to fly. That year's team finished in the top five at four different tournaments, including a second-place result at the Cleveland State Invitational. The four top-fives were the most in one season during Young's tenure. When the season concluded, the Falcons had accumulated a per-round team average of 318.57, which shaved nearly five strokes off of the previous team record.
Those results paled in comparison to what the Falcons had in store for the 2012-13 season. They began the year in style with back-to-back second-place finishes, including one at the 15-team Redbird Invitational. After what would amount to the team's only poor tournament of the year (13th of 17 teams), BGSU put together their first team win in over four years. Their win at the Cleveland State Invitational was the team's first in four years, but it did not take nearly as long to win another. In fact, they earned another victory in their very next event, the Butler Fall Invitational.
The team closed out the fall portion of their schedule by finishing second out of 15 teams at The Preview, which is an event headlined by MAC teams and held at the site of the MAC Championships. When the season resumed in the spring, BGSU won a match-play event against Ohio, 7-5, then finished in the top five in each of their four events leading up to the MAC championship tournament.
At the MAC Championships, BGSU earned sixth place for the program's best result in the event in ten years. The 54-hole score of 957 established a school record for the MAC Championships. That score included rounds of 312 and 318, which rank second and third all-time for BGSU at the championship. When the season finally concluded, the team per-round average obliterated the record they had set in the previous season. The mark of 311.26 shaved another seven strokes from the old record.
The record book for individual scoring average was virtually re-written as well. Bailey Arnold set a new school record in that category with a 77.87 average -- the first sub-78.00 average in BGSU history. In all, there were five players on the 2012-13 team that had per-round averages under 79. That is more than in all previous seasons COMBINED (four).
What does the 2013 season have in store? Four of the team's fop five scorers from last year will return to this year's team; only Amy Ruthenberg departs.
Bailey Arnold and Kelsey Benson are the lone seniors on the team. Arnold has improved her scoring average in each of her first three seasons and will seek to better her school-record career average. She will also seek to earn her best finish at the MAC Championships. That 20th place finish came during her freshman season.
Patricia Holt and Shelby Wilson are each entering their third season with the team. Holt was nearly four strokes better per round as a sophomore and earned a top-five finish in four different events. Wilson has been incredibly consistent in her career, as she has finished with scoring averages of 78.70 and 78.65. She also has three top-five finishes in her career.
Among the four returning sophomores, Lily Bartell comes back after a season in which she was a freshman sensation. She scored a per-round average of 78.83 and was the Falcons' best player at the MAC Championships. Her 54-hole score of 234 was good for 12th place.
Young's 2013 team will also feature two highly-regarded incoming freshmen -- Mikayla Baer of Elmore, Ohio and Fran Rodriguez of Flower Mound, Texas.
For Young, it might be difficult to pick five-person teams for each tournament, not because of a dearth of talent but rather because of the fabulous depth that this team appears to have.
Recently, I was able to ask Young several questions, which look back at last year and ahead to this year's season. Below are the questions and her answers:
Your career at BGSU has been marked by steady improvement by the women's golf team year after year. That all came to a head over the last 12 months in a virtual avalanche of accomplishment. What has the last year meant to you and your team, and if you HAD to pick out one or two moments as your favorite, what would they be?
Last year meant a lot to all of us. It was a very memorable season. If I HAD to choose, I would say having back to back tournament wins and finishing as runner-up at the The Preview.
Tell us about your coaching philosophy and why you think it has been so successful at BGSU?
I love finding the "right fit" for our program and for BGSU. The young women who believe in our system, our values and desire to be a part of continuing to achieve special things for BGSU women's golf are those who become the best fits. Also, I believe the student-athlete experience is about so much more than playing a sport. There is a bigger picture and a fuller experience we want to create. I am also a big believer in a "Team First" culture. These things work with BGSU because the people truly make the place. They all go hand in hand.
For BGSU athletics as a whole, why do you think it is important to build a consistently good program in women's golf -- how do you think it contributes to the mantra of "18 sports, 1 team"?
There is great pride in BGSU and our sports teams. It is very important to me that our entire program, from coaches to players, represent our university in a first-class manner. We want to succeed in the classroom, on the course, and in the community.
Your team placed sixth at the 2012 MAC Championships. That's a big step for your program, but I'm sure you have bigger goals. Your top scorers will be back next season, and the team will again be relatively young. How can you focus the team to take that next step, and what would you consider that next step to be?
As great as last season was, we must begin this year with a clean slate. The past can always help build confidence, but our expectation is to continue to climb in the MAC standings and improve our national ranking. This is the next step. We get there by focusing on one day at a time, working hard in practice and maintaining a strong team chemistry.
Lily Bartell...12th place at the MAC Championships, with sub-80 scores in each round...third-best scoring average on the team...qualified for the U.S. Amateur...and she was just a freshman last year. How has she grown as a player in her first year at BGSU, and how is she handling all of this early success?
Lily is such a fiery competitor, is passionate about her team, and has a great respect for the game. I think where she saw the most growth was in course management and gaining a wider perspective of tournament and college golf. For a freshman, she is grounded and mature beyond her age. She has been a driving force for our most recent success, and I look forward to watching an amazing career unfold for Lily.
Of the 10 athletes on this year's roster, six are from out-of-state and four are from outside of the Midwest. What has enabled you to create such a large recruiting footprint, and how does that benefit the program?
This goes back to an earlier question in philosophy. In the beginning, I just wanted to get the word out about our vision and paint a picture of what BGSU women's golf was going to become. We are still doing that..but this impacted recruiting in that we wanted to identify the student-athletes that best fit the vision. Some of those best fits led to areas all over the country and in our home state of Ohio. This is a benefit because we have really gained diversity and depth to our roster. It has really helped us become more competitive and built a stronger bond as a team family.
What was your favorite moment of #MACtion from the last year?
BGSU football making it to the Military Bowl!
(Next up: BGSU swimming and head coach Petra Martin.)