The best-ever for Oakland City University golf women could come Monday through Wednesday in Palm Coast, Florida.
Having won the September 27-28 National Christian College Athletic Association Mid-East Regional on the Old Capital course in Corydon, the Lady Oaks are among the six teams in the NCCAA Championships on the Hammock Beach Resort Conservatory Course.
Mighty Oaks senior Nate Neal, having placed second in the Mid-East Regional on the Country Oaks course between Washington and Montgomery, advanced to NCCAA Men’s Championships also starting Monday at Hammock Beach Resort. Neal’s runnerup finish, one stroke behind Asbury’s Garrett Sturges, was the regional’s best by a player not on the title team. Thus his individual advancement.
“When our women placed fifth in Florida last year, that was the best finish we’ve ever had,” said David Hose, then head coach for OCU men and women and now assistant to Nick Virden with both genders. Since Virden, a Gibson Southern grad, will monitor Neal at nationals, Hose will monitor the Lady Oaks.
“I think this is the strongest team we’ve ever taken to nationals,”
Hose said. “I won’t be surprised if we finish in the top five again, and I think we have a solid chance to place in the top three.”
A new team champion is assured. Dallas Baptist, the 2020 champ, is not playing in this NCCAA women’s postseason after winning the NCAA Division II title last spring. Still, a strong field.,
“Bethel (of Mishawaka, Ind.) is back after placing second last October. Grace (of Winona Lake, Ind.) is back after placing third. Bethel won the North Central Regional, Grace the Midwest Regional,” Hose noted.
Judson (of Elgin, Ill.), Chicago suburban Trinity Christian, and Central Christian (McPherson, Kan.) complete the field.
North Posey-bred sophomore Haylee Exline, a Wadesville resident, leads the Lady Oaks to nationals after becoming Mid-East medalist with a one-over-par 74-75--149. A birdie on the final hole put her one stroke up on Asbury’s Faith Wiley, the only female qualifier for nationals.
“The top finishers in all the other regionals are from winning teams,” Hose noted.
“Haylee’s goal since the season started was to place in the top five in every meet. She has placed no worse than third so far, and I won’t be surprised if she’s in the top five in Florida.”
This will mark the fourth NCCAA finals appearance for senior Hallie Hinton. The sister of former OCU basketball player Joe Hinton Jr. tied for 30th in 2018, then placed 28th in 2019 and 17th last year.
“Halley’s got the potential to be right up there with Haylee. She’s just had one bad round in several tourneys this year,” Hose said.
“Her 17th place last year was the best-ever by an Oakland City lady.”
Jasper-bred senior Gillian Blessinger will play the Lady Oaks’ No. 3 role. Senior Katie Alexander, like Hinton a New Salisbury resident and North Harrison High grad, is No. 4. Emily Deguire, freshman from El Paso, Tex.; and Dixie Short, junior from Danville, Ind., and Cascade High, will share the No. 5 role.
“Emily will play Monday’s round, Dixie Tuesday’s round,” Hose said. “Who plays Wednesday is to be determined.”
Neal, from McLeansboro, Ill., Hamilton County High, junior college Rend Lake and California State University-Monterey Bay, is among four individual qualifiers for the men’s nationals. He joins Columbia International’s Bryce Allen, Dallas Christian’s Blake Bergeron and Trinity Christrian’s Nicholas Sabagol.
Asbury, which beat OCU men by 11 shots for the regional title, is in nationals along with Bethel, Grace, Bob Jones, Campbellsville-Harrodsburg, Cedarville, Central Christian of Kansas, Malone and North Central University. Bob Jones finished fourth and Campbellville-Harrodsburg sixth in 2020.
The Lady Oaks and Neal, who though now a senior has a year of eligibility remaining but isn’t sure he’ll use it, will leave campus Friday, stay overnight somewhere, reach Palm Coast Saturday and practice Sunday after a church service. They’ll participate in the NCCAA public service project, a canned food drive for the Grace Community Food Bank in Palm Coast.
Hose quipped that “since three of the women’s teams are from Indiana, two from Illinois and one from Kansas, maybe we should play this tournament in Missouri.”