Youth Movement: Two Freshmen Lead Rebel Golf Revival
Nov. 20, 2017
In their first three months as student-athletes, freshmen Julia Johnson and Conner Beth Ball combined for five top-five finishes to lead the way for Ole Miss women’s golf in the best fall season in program history--one that has the Rebels tied for first in NCAA Division I with three team tournament wins.
Along the way, the Rebel duo ascended to No. 4 in the Golfstat Freshman Class Impact Ranking. As their collective scoring average of 73.1 shows, Johnson and Ball have made an impact on the course as much as any newcomers in the nation, but their contribution to the locker room culture at Ole Miss has been even greater.
“I just hope the people who keep up with us know that it’s so much more than the scores,” Ball said. “Each of us truly enjoys every moment of being out there and competing and every moment of just being together as a team. We couldn’t do it without our entire team. We all just have such an amazing vibe.”
The Team 32 vibe consists of close friendship and fierce competition—a locker room dynamic that is unlike any other sport. The Rebels compete as a team for tournament titles and simultaneously against one another on the individual leaderboard, as well for the five slots in the lineup. As a result, practices and qualifying at the Ole Miss Golf Course are as intense as ever, and that internal competition has led Ole Miss to its success. At the heart of that competitive paradigm is a friendly rivalry between the team’s two young leaders.
“Conner Beth and I have, I would think, one of the best dynamics in women’s collegiate golf,” Johnson said. “You have another person who is on your level, who is as good as you are, who is pushing you and working the same amount that you are---and it’s your teammate. I walk in every day thinking, ‘I’m going to out-work her.’ And she comes in ready to out-work me. But at the end of the day, we’re making each other better.”
At the end of the day, it’s making everyone better.
Two more team tournament wins followed at the Palmetto Intercollegiate and Rainbow Wahine Invitational, marking a school record three-straight victories to close the fall. The margin of victory was eight strokes or fewer in all three wins, giving the Rebels invaluable experience going forward. Few upperclassmen can say that they’ve been challenged and found a way to win three close tournaments in crunch time, and even fewer freshman can make that claim.
“The fall was huge for us gaining confidence in ourselves,” Johnson said. “It’s never easy to win a tournament, and for us to do that three times this semester has really given us the confidence to say, ‘We’re closers. We know how to close tournaments and win.’ This semester was huge for us to be able to lay the foundation.”
When the spring arrives, they’ll need all the experience they can lean on. The second half of the Ole Miss schedule brings an uptick in competition. The Rebels will travel to three tournaments hosted by SEC rivals on their home courses, as well as two tournaments hosted by non-SEC teams ranked in the top 50 in UNLV and Kennesaw State. With experience and wisdom beyond their years, the young Rebels are ready for what will come their way.
“We know we’re going into a really hard spring schedule with some bigger-name tournaments,” Ball said. “That doesn’t scare me at all. That doesn’t scare Julia at all. I feel like we’re ready to compete as a team and individually in the spring. We’re so excited for that opportunity.”
With that new challenge awaiting the Rebels in the spring, the focus goes back to the process.
“Now it’s the offseason. Let’s get to work. Let’s grind,” Johnson said. “You could look at my record and say that it was a very good first semester, you could look at CB’s record and say the same. But we both know we have so much we left out there that first semester. That’s huge motivation for next semester. We had great finishes, we played great golf, but we still aren’t content. That’s a great feeling. We like knowing we haven’t reached our peak yet.”
“Oh yeah,” Ball added. “I look back on the first semester and say, ‘Wow, this was so great.’ But in the back of my mind, I get three-and-a-half more years of this much fun and excitement and hard work every day. We’ve grown so much together, and it’s only the beginning.”
Believe it or not, the Rebel freshmen are just an eighth of the way through their collegiate careers, leaving plenty of room for progress still ahead. As they walk that road together, Johnson and Ball know that they’re far from alone.
“It’s fun to get to do that with a team you feel so compatible with,” Johnson added. “We’ve traveled the world together--literally, the middle of the Pacific. I love every single one of these girls like they’re my sisters. To be able to have the semester we’ve had and go through everything with people you love is just really fun.”
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