A Fall Season to Remember for Ole Miss Women's Golf
Nov. 7, 2017

#Team32 is more than just a hashtag. It's a mindset that has helped the 32nd team in Ole Miss women's golf history bring the program to new heights.

When Kory Henkes and Drew Belt arrived in Oxford, they inherited a program that had won just two tournaments since 2004. Now just halfway through their third year, the Rebel coaching duo has orchestrated the most successful stretch of golf in program history. Ole Miss captured three straight tournament wins to close the fall season, tying the school's single-season wins record.

"You always hope for this kind of success, but it can be hard to believe it until it really happens," Henkes said. "The girls did amazing this fall."

The 2017-18 Rebels believed right from the start. They began their season on a mission to put the program on the map, so Belt created the #Team32 mantra to represent that mentality. It started with a hashtag, but it grew into a rallying cry for the team.

"We didn't go into the season thinking, `We want to be good one day,'" Belt said. "We want to be good right now. What are we going to do that's different than any other team? What's going to be our legacy? What are people going to talk about when they think of this season? That's where Team 32 came from."

The Rebels showcased that mindset immediately. They opened the 2017-18 campaign at one of the toughest golf courses in the United States, The Ocean Course in Kiawah Island, South Carolina. After 36 holes, they were in the lead--ahead of No. 44 NC State, No. 32 Florida State, No. 29 Tennessee, No. 25 Vanderbilt, No. 24 North Carolina, No. 20 Wake Forest and No. 16 Florida.

Treacherous weather conditions derailed the young Rebels on the final day of the tournament, but there was still plenty to be proud of. Ole Miss finished tied for fifth among some of the best teams in college golf, and Conner Beth Ball tied for third in a stellar collegiate debut for the freshman from Madison, Mississippi.



The following event was the only off tournament of the fall for Ole Miss, and it truly featured just one poor round. Take away the Rebels' opening-round 311 at the Lady Paladin Invitational and sub it with their average round of 292.6, and they're in fifth place.

"I couldn't have asked for a better fall season," Henkes said. "I think we had one poor round of golf this whole fall at Furman, and that really hurt us for that tournament. But other than that, it was a pretty amazing fall for the girls."

After the trip to Furman came the amazing part. A week later, Ole Miss co-hosted the Magnolia Invitational with Mississippi State at Old Waverly Golf Club. After three spectacular rounds of golf, the Rebels came through with one of the biggest wins in program history.

Ole Miss topped four SEC rivals, as well as a top-50 program in Memphis, shooting the team's lowest score (854) ever in a tournament win. Meanwhile, freshman Julia Johnson won a thrilling two-hole playoff to become the first freshman in Ole Miss history to win a 54-hole tournament. It was the Team 32 philosophy coming to life on Mississippi's finest golf course.

"Julia straight up told us when we were recruiting her that she wanted to come in and make a difference and change things," Belt said. "This team came in wanting to change the history of Ole Miss women's golf."

A couple of weeks later, they changed more of the history of Ole Miss women's golf. The Rebels headed back to Kiawah Island, this time to Turtle Point Golf Course for the Palmetto Intercollegiate. There, they became the first Ole Miss team to sweep the team and individual titles in back-to-back tournaments. Junior Diane Lim, another newcomer, shot 4-under par (68) in Round 1 and went under again in Round 3 to capture the seventh individual title of her collegiate career. The NAIA All-American from Suwanee, Georgia, led the Rebels to a team victory over No. 34 Kennesaw State and others.

An immediate turnaround had Ole Miss back on the road after just two days at home in Oxford. This time Team 32 flew to Hawaii for the Rainbow Wahine Invitational. After some sightseeing in paradise with The Season cameras rolling, the Rebels went to work, shooting all three rounds at even par or under to secure a third straight victory.

Ole Miss didn't quite complete the sweep, but it was perhaps the best team effort of the season. Playing as an independent, senior Katy Harris finished in second place, tying a career-best (212) tournament score. Johnson grabbed a third-straight top-five finish, tying for third to close an outstanding fall campaign. Ball tied for seventh for her third top-10 finish of the fall. Pi-Lillebi Hermansson captured her first career top-10 finish, also tying for seventh. Kie Purdom recorded a career-best 11th-place finish, and Lim rounded out all six Rebels in the top 15 in a tie for 14th.

Ole Miss returned from Hawaii with a suitcase full of personal bests, another trophy for the collection and the first three-tournament win streak in school history. In doing so, they earned a spot among select company, joining No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 Duke and No. 4 Arkansas in the three-win club.

"Three wins--that's tough to do. It's not easy to win a golf tournament when you're playing against 12-15 other teams," Henkes said. "The fun part is they're hungry to get better. They're not satisfied with how they did. They want to keep getting better during this offseason and have a good spring."

The three wins all spanned exactly one month, during which the Rebels averaged 288.7 per round, seven-tenths of a stroke above par. They've played just half a season, but they've already re-written a litany of school records, including the most rounds at par or under (33) and the most rounds in the 60s (nine)--and more are within reach.

To make that happen, the Rebels must maintain their level of play. In the last two seasons, Ole Miss has shot nine strokes better on average in the fall compared to the spring. That effect has hit the hardest in the first few tournaments out of the break, and Henkes is hoping this team reverses the trend, just as they did all fall.

"In the past, we just haven't looked great coming back out of the offseason to be pretty blunt," Henkes said. "It's good to take a little bit of time off. Everybody needs a break. It's good to enjoy the holidays, but each girl has an assignment, whether it is something in the weight room or swing related or short game, so we're encouraging them to keep up with their progress. Because they've made so much progress that we don't want to see them start backtracking."

While the Rebels have had a fantastic fall, the intensity will increase in the spring. SEC Golfer of the Week honors are up for grabs. Ole Miss will travel to three tournaments hosted by SEC teams, not to mention the conference championship itself. Then, if all goes to plan, the Rebels will go to their first NCAA Regional since 2013.

While the fall has been record-breaking, there are still plenty of goals out there, including that NCAA berth, but to get there, Ole Miss still must earn it. Henkes is confident her group will do that off the course this winter, and then on it in the spring.

"We have a group of girls that wants to win," Henkes said. "They want to play, and I have no doubt that they're all going to stick to their gameplan over this winter and work harder so that when they come back into the spring they're coming out of the gates strong."

The Rebels are scheduled to open their spring season on Feb. 26 in Las Vegas at the Rebel Beach Invitational.

For all Ole Miss women's golf news and information, go to OleMissSports.com, and follow the Rebels on Twitter at @OleMissWGolf and Facebook at Ole Miss Women's Golf.




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