With new talent, refined skills, and laser focus, the University of Redlands women's golf team returned to the NCAA Division III Championships for the first time since 2016 to highlight a stellar campaign. In addition, the Bulldogs gained multiple individual accolades and put the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) on notice for future success.
The Bulldogs opened up the fall season at the California State Intercollegiate with a fourth-place score of 614 (305-309) on the par-72 course. Senior Keilee Bessho (La Canãda, CA) made her debut with the Bulldogs by earning rounds of 71 and 77 for a total score of 148. On the way to her overall fifth-place finish, she drained four birdies and accumulated 24 pars. Sophomore Annie Hay (University Place, WA) sank five birdies, which helped her net a 17th-place finish with a total score of 152 (75-77). To round out the top three, first-year Dana Condon (Palm Desert, CA) put together a solid first outing with the Bulldogs by climbing eight spots into a tie for 24th with a score of 156 (79-77) on 19 pars and three birdies.
A week later, the Maroon and Gray traveled to Houston, Texas, and placed fifth at the NCAA Division III National Preview Invite with a combined 635 strokes. Once again, Bessho led the charge for Redlands with a third-place tally of 150 (76-74). She tallied 23 pars and four birdies in a solid showing. Hay and Condon also repeated as the second and third scorers for the Bulldogs, with respective totals of 155 (74-81) and 162 (81-81). On the heels of her tournament-best 74 in round one, Hay tied for ninth, while Condon landed in a four-way tie for 33rd with her consistent performance. First-year Kendall Nicholson (Bellevue, WA) also remained steady with scores of 84 in each round, as sophomore Mariah Moon (La Quinta, CA) decreased her score by two strokes for a total of 170 (86-84).
To end the fall slate in September, Redlands returned to Southern California to compete in the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges Invite, where they placed fourth with a combined total of 625. Much like the previous two outings, Bessho served as the top Bulldog and ranked fourth on the final leaderboard with back-to-back rounds of 76. She registered five birdies and 19 pars in her solid performance. Hay moved up four spots to finish in sixth place with a total score of 154 (78-76). Nicholson led the team with six birdies, which was accompanied by 11 pars, to land her in a tie for 17th place on a total of 161 (80-81). Sophomore Makayla Sugidono (Scottsdale, AZ) made her season debut and earned a score of 172 (85-87).
The Bulldogs returned to action in early February in a head-to-head matchup against the CMS Athenas at the Redlands-CMS Invite. Despite owning a two-stroke lead after round one, CMS battled back for the win. Among the highlights of the weekend, Hay finished only one stroke behind the tournament leader in second place with a 155 (74-81) that came off a tournament-best, first-round score of 74. Nicholson also put together solid rounds in second place with a score of 155 (75-80).
Redlands found its stride and finished in the top three in each competition over the course of the next two months. Beginning with the first SCIAC Tournament in mid-February, the Bulldogs climbed into second place by shaving off eight strokes to finish with an overall score of 634. Nicholson earned medalists honors with an impressive tally of 151 (77-74) to lead a field of 48 competitors. She also paced the tournament in par-three scoring with a minus-one 2.88 and ranked among the best with a score of 4.35 on par fours and 5.13 on par fives. In addition, Moon finished among the top 10 in seventh place with a score of 158 (79-79) off of 19 pars and three birdies.
A few weeks later at the Cal Lutheran University Invitational, the Maroon and Gray dominated the field to win the tournament with a total score of 647, which was 23 strokes in front of the second-place team. Hay and Nicholson set the tone in the first round with low scores of 77, while Hay finished day two on top of the individual leaderboard with an overall score of 156 (77-79) to lead a top-three sweep for the Bulldogs. Hay led the field of 51 in par-three and par-four scoring and also registered 21 pars and a pair of birdies. Nicholson signed her scorecard with a two-round score of 159 (77-81) for second place, as Moon tied for third with an overall score of 162 (80-82). She joined Hay at the top of the list for pars with 21. As a team, the Bulldogs led the invitational with 87 pars, which was 18 ahead of the next team.
Later in the week, the Bulldogs took their talents to the George Fox Westbrook Invite in Peoria, Arizona, where they finished in third place with a team score of 611 (304-307) over 36 holes. Bessho and Hay came out firing to each produce a day-low score of 72. Bessho repeated her performance in the next round, which placed her in a four-way tie for second place, while Hay shot an 80 to finish 12th. Moon and Sugidono duplicated performances with scores of 158 in a tie for 29th place. Moon's score resulted from a pair of 79s for her best two rounds of the season.
Next up, Redlands returned home to host the Bulldog Classic in Rancho Mirage. On the heels of tied-for-fourth-place scores of 150 from Hay and Nicholson, the Bulldogs finished in second with a team total of 611 (300-311). Bessho led the field in par-five scoring with a minus-four average to help net a 153 (75-78) total for an 11th-place tie. Moon and Sugidono each shot back-to-back 79s to tie for 24th, while Sugidono finished with a minus-one average of 4.88 on the par fives, sank three birdies, and notched 21 pars. Sophomore Emily Duncan (Winchester, CA) showed consistency while shooting her best 36 holes of the season with rounds of 85 and 82.
To begin the month of April, the Maroon and Gray grabbed another second-place finish at the SCIAC Tournament No. 2 with a season-low score of 596 over two rounds. Hay dominated the field to win with an impressive score of 142, which ties her for third-best in school history. She logged consistent rounds of 72 and 70 for a five-stroke lead on the runner-up. Nicholson also put together a strong performance with rounds of 75 and 72 to tie for second place. Moon and Condon each knocked six strokes off of their first-round score to finish at 158 for a 20th-place tie, with Moon's 76 in the second round matching her season-best total for 18 holes.
Almost two weeks later, the Bulldogs shined at the three-day SCIAC Championship Tournament by leading the field through the first two rounds and finishing in second place with an overall total of 934. The tally added to an aggregate score of 2,164 strokes over seven rounds of conference action for second place in the season standings. During the tournament, Hay provided consistent and solid scores as the individual runner-up with 228 total shots. Just three strokes behind Hay, Nicholson held onto fourth place with her best round of the tournament coming in the final 18 holes off a 76. Individually, Nicholson and Hay were solid with nine and eight birdies, respectively, which was second and third among a talented field. Hay also ranked fourth with 29 pars and paced the field with a par-four average of 4.27.
Due to her impressive rookie run, Nicholson not only landed on the All-SCIAC First Team but was named the 2019 SCIAC Athlete of the Year and the SCIAC Newcomer of the Year for women's golf. She led the conference with a seven-round average of 75.57 in conference competition. In addition, Hay joined her on the First Team, while Bessho gained Second-Team honors.
With momentum on its side, Redlands excitedly gained one of the at-large berths to the NCAA Championships in Houston, Texas, to make the program's first appearance since 2016. Equipped with a national ranking of ninth, the Bulldogs opened the tournament with a bang by firing off a team score of 306 to take the early lead. Bessho and Hay co-led the Maroon and Gray with rounds of 75 in a 10-way battle for sixth place.
Although the Bulldogs slipped to ninth place on the second day, Bessho paced the team once again with a round of 77 for a two-round total of 152 for 13th place. Similar to the previous round, Nicholson and Moon mirrored each other's performances with 86s.
On day three, the Maroon and Gray battled through a trying performance on the links but made the 15-team cut to advance to the final round with a 326. Hay maintained her top-20 position in 17th with a round of 80 for a score of 233 through 54 holes. For the third consecutive round, Nicholson and Moon posted the same scores, with these developing from a four-stroke improvement for a pair of 82s.
Bessho saved her best round of the tournament for last with a solid score of 74 to complete her Redlands career with a 13th-place total of 308 as the Bulldogs' top finisher. Hay moved up two spots and signed her scorecard with a four-round tally of 309 for 15th. Nicholson recorded her lowest score of the four days at 73 for a 47th-place finish with 319 total strokes. Moon sank a birdie on her final hole and ended with 332 strokes in 67th place, while Condon shot an 85 on day four to end with a 343 for 74th place.
Regionally and nationally, Hay and Bessho represented the Bulldogs on the Women's Golf Coaches Association (WGCA) All-West Region Team and became NCAA Division III Second-Team All-Americans in a fine showing.
Academically, the Bulldog women's golf team shined with three WGCA All-American Scholars, with Hay receiving her second such award and Moon and Condon making their inaugural appearances. This trio impressed by exceeding one of the more stringent requirements that included having a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.5 and competing in 12 rounds.
Although the loss of lone senior Bessho is significant, Redlands looks forward to returning its young core as the team benefits from the momentum established throughout this season. Under the direction of Head Coach Jack Stewart, the Maroon and Gray boasts the talent and consistency to reach the next level. With hopes of making consecutive appearances at the national tournament, the Bulldogs remain committed to challenging themselves to become even more successful in the SCIAC and beyond.