There’s growing evidence that the University of Redlands may have burst onto the scene as a national women’s golf powerhouse.
If it hasn’t happened yet, it’s well underway. First clue was, of course, when Caroline Ordian won the 2016 NCAA Division III individual championship during a sensational sophomore season.
Nowadays, following a stalwart career, Ordian is Redlands’ assistant coach. Fourth-year coach Jack Stewart, a one-year assistant to former coach Art Salvesen a few years back before taking over in that 2016 season, seems to be building Redlands into a nationally prominent program — recruiting nationally with a national schedule.
“We’ve shot some good scores this spring,” he said, just days before landing in Houston for the NCAA Division III championships May 14-17 at Bay Oaks Country Club.
“There are a lot of teams that aren’t shooting that well.” If that wasn’t a confidence booster, consider that Stewart’s a confidence-building type of coach that might offer a small putting tip or nudge them about a possible swing flaw.
This year’s seven-player roster beat the odds, reaching NCAA Division III Tournament play in Texas.
The 5-woman lineup includes transfers Keilee Bessho and Mariah Moon, plus sophomore Annie Hay, Palm Desert freshman Dana Condon and SCIAC Newcomer of the Year Kendall Nicholson, who also is a freshman.
“They all have a swing coach they’ll call if they need help,” Stewart said. It’s hard not to be excited about Lady Bulldog golf.
It’s funny because he had a roster of seven players, needing five for a match while using four lowest scorecards for a team total. In recent months, 11 would-be golfers applied and were accepted by the school.
“I got one from San Diego,” said Stewart. “I’m one good player from being a national champion.”
That’s a line he might use on any recruit. Stewart isn’t exactly recruiting recreation players off the local driving range.
He’s scanning tournament results anywhere he can hunt them down on the internet.
“It’s part of the recruiting,” he said.
If they have the grades, if they like a small school setting and can handle a set of golf clubs, Stewart’s on them.
By the way, those 10 golfers that chose not to attend Redlands? Chances are, most of them wound up with partial scholarships somewhere (no one gets full rides for golf at small college).
While Redlands can’t offer athletic scholarships — by NCAA rule — they can offer packages that includes academic scholarships, grants and various other financial aid.
Stewart’s not the only coach on campus trying to work this type of magic. Twenty-five teams got into the NCAAs, 21 of which were automatic bids because they won their respective conference tournaments.
Redlands was one of four that received at-large bids.
Couldn’t beat Claremont-Mudd College, which is the case with a lot of sports on the Redlands campus.
“We were ranked 11th in the country,” said Stewart. “No. 12 stayed home.” Talk about beating the odds.
At this year’s NCAA championships, the Lady Bulldogs claimed 10th place. Each member of his lineup is a story unto itself on how they showed up to study/play at Redlands.
Bessho, a La Canada, Calif., product, might be the most interesting. She transferred to Redlands for her senior season after three years at Hope International in Orange County.
“She played in events several times against us,” said Stewart, referring to Bessho as his No. 1 player.
“She decided to come to Redlands.” Moon, from nearby La Quinta, and Condon, a Palm Desert High product, were easy pickings for Stewart. He coached Palm Desert High to CIF championships — seven total — in both boys’ and girls’ tournament play. It’s what might be referred to as a dynasty. “There a lot of good players out there,” he said.
Stewart retired from the prep ranks, taking on a small college squad an hour’s drive from home. Recruiting can lead to a collegiate dynasty. Redlands could be sitting on such a possibility.
Moon transferred to Redlands from Marymount College in Rancho Palos Verdes. Curiously enough, she played in the Lady Bulldog Classic last year, perhaps seeing up close what life could be like as a Lady Bulldog.
“I knew her dad,” said Stewart. Nicholson, who arrived as a freshman last August, was quickly thrust into the allowable five fall NCAA events.
She averaged 82 shots a round, but think about it: “She didn’t even know who her professors were by the time she finished those five events,” Stewart joked.
By early February, Nicholson was the initial SCIAC Golfer of the Week. She was first-team All-SCIAC. She’s from Bellevue, Wash. Playing at a tournament in Portland, Stewart was on hand.
“I talked to her dad (Scott),” he said. Nicholson watched how easily Stewart got along with the Redlands squad.
“She was sold.” As for Ordian, whose 2016 NCAA title is, by far, Redlands’ high-water mark, consider that her coach at Palm Desert High was a guy named Jack Stewart.
That’s how Redlands is building into a NCAA powerhouse.