Overall victory wasn’t a likelihood with the first-ever Maryville College women’s golf team hosting four NCAA Division II scholarship schools in its inaugural event.
A fifth team, NAIA Tennessee Wesleyan College, was no different.
Maryville coach Ron Waters knew each of those things as his fledgling, Division III Lady Scots readied to tee off in the Elite Linen Service Inc. Maryville College Women’s Invitational last Friday at Lambert Acres Golf Course. The retired Blount County school teacher also knew something else.
“I told them going in, ‘Somebody’s going to leave here (on Saturday) with a school record,’” Waters said.
That somebody would be true freshman Megan Lee, whose second-round 84 on Saturday enabled her to edge teammate Kelcey Bryant by four strokes for the low round in the first varsity competition for a Maryville women’s team.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Lee said, “but I want to beat (the score) and set the record lower, of course.”
Lee would never threaten Carson-Newman’s Sarah Jane Sinard for medalist honors, with the Lady Eagle senior cruising to the title with a 5-under par 144 over two days. Carson-Newman’s Jessica Tarbett would finish 12 strokes back in second, with Lincoln Memorial University’s Maria Stapleton one back of Tarbett in third.
With Carson-Newman freshman Melanie Manis, a William Blount High School product, fourth and Lincoln Memorial’s Brittney McCown fifth, Maryville’s Division II adversaries swept the top five spots.
On a history-making weekend for Maryville, Waters could hardly have been more proud with how things turned out.
“I was very pleased with the tournament,’ he said. “We got some quality teams with some quality players to come play us, and Lambert Acres was fabulous.
“I’m really pleased with the way they (the Lady Scots) have worked and the way they have improved. With some experience, I think we have a chance to have a really good team.”
Men’s and women’s golf at Maryville - the men’s team will debut later this month at the Piedmont College Fall Invitational - is the brainchild of athletics director Kandis Schram. Upon assuming the post a year ago, Schram promised an expansion of Maryville varsity sports. Golf, with a wealth of local talent available and several top-flight courses within 30 minutes of campus, was a logical first step, she said.
“I believe we can be successful in golf here at Maryville College,” Schram said. “I felt like it was a good fit for the college.”
When the Maryville administration backed her proposal for the sport, “That showed me this is who I want to work for,” she said.
Waters was an ace for Schram as the program’s first coach. The multi-Blount County amateur champion was the golf coach at nearby Heritage High for many years, along with his duties as men’s basketball coach there. One of the state’s top amateurs as well, Waters brought with him a wealth of contacts when he officially accepted the position at Maryville last September.
He’d hoped to field a women’s team of at least six, one more than the scoring minimum, for Maryville’s first season. When the Lady Scots teed off last Friday, there were seven. More importantly, Waters said, is who those first seven are as individuals.
First, it was essential each be a strong student, he said. Maryville is perennially rated one of the South’s top liberal arts colleges. An ace on the course matters little if they can’t stay in school.
Second, and most importantly when it comes to golf, Waters said he wanted self-starters.
“I told them, ‘If I have to make you practice golf, you’re not going to be any good at golf,’” he said.
Lee was just the player Waters said he was looking for when he began recruiting. The Lady Scot freshman had helped Stone Memorial High School in Crossville reach the region tournament in each of her last two seasons. Lee said she was considering Maryville and the University of Tennessee her senior year, figuring her days on any golf team of any kind largely over.
Tennessee had the lead, she said. Then Maryville added golf.
“I liked the school even before I knew they had a golf team,” Lee said. “I was considering UT, but golf swung it (for Maryville).”
For Lady Scot senior Kelli Ierulli, the choice had long since been made.
A Maryville High School graduate, Ierulli has been playing the game since age 6. By high school, she was beating her father, Maryville College football coach Tony Ierulli, on a regular basis.
Following her father to the college was a given by her senior year at Maryville High, Kelli said, but it sure would be nice if they had a golf team. She’d heard rumors of one starting several times.
“They told me the same exact thing my senior year in high school,” she said.
When she pulled on a Maryville College golf polo last Friday and strolled to the first tee, with her mother, Carol, and father nearby, it meant a lot, Kelli said. Tony Ierulli had been a football star and team captain at Maryville College in the late 1970s.
“Seeing my family come out to see me play college golf, I never thought it would happen,” Kelli said. “Having my family come out to support me and being in a Maryville College shirt was really touching.”
It’s one of the reasons he took the job, Waters said.
“I’m happy for her that an opportunity came along before she graduated,” he said.
Adding Bryant to the squad was just the kind of recruiting Schram was hoping for from her new golf coach.
Bryant had graduated from Heritage the year before and was taking a year off before starting college. Like Lee, she was likely headed to Tennessee.
Waters not only knew the player Bryant was capable of becoming, he knew her parents. After taking the Maryville job, he dialed the Bryant home from memory.
“I told her she had an opportunity to be a very good player,” Waters said.
Bryant finished five strokes under Lee on the first day of the invitational, with Lee’s strong showing on Day 2 accounting for the reversal for team-best honors.
“It was really nerve wracking toward the end,” Lee said.
The team’s goals for its first season, she said, are much in keeping with her own.
“Basically, this year I’d like to establish a solid foundation for myself that I can improve upon,” Lee said. “For the team, it’s pretty much the same thing.”
It was a given Maryville would take its lumps last weekend. Carson-Newman, Lincoln Memorial, Tusculum and Tennessee Wesleyan all but breezed to the top four team spots. The Lady Scots climbed above Mars Hill for fifth place, but there was little question going in Maryville was likely outmatched, which is exactly what Waters wanted.
He could have gotten Maryville into a tournament featuring a Division III field for its first event. Ierulli is the lone senior on a team that includes five freshmen and a sophomore. It might have been an easier way to debut.
However, when he sat down to put a schedule together this spring, Waters said he remembered some advice from longtime friend and golfing buddy George Quarles, a seven-time state champion football coach at Maryville High.
“George and I have been friends for a long time,” Waters said. “George once told me no one ever rises to low expectations.”
Men’s and women’s golf isn’t the end of it when it comes to sports Schram hopes to add in the near future. Swimming, lacrosse, bowling, “even cycling,” she said, are high on her list.
“Cycling would be a natural,” she said. “We’re in the mountains, so we’ve got great facilities. If we have the interest, I think we should see what we can field.”