Abbi Stamper’s golf season got off to a rocky start.
It couldn’t be ending on a better note.
Stamper, a graduate of Franklin County High School, is a member of the Murray State women’s golf team that captured the Ohio Valley Conference championship last week.
“This year I definitely struggled in the beginning, but I kept working hard and put in a lot of time and it definitely showed towards the end of the season and at the OVC,” said Stamper, a sophomore at Murray State.
“I think playing in the OVC last year helped because I knew what to expect a little bit and I could tell the freshmen, ‘hang in there, it’s going to work out.’”
The Racers needed that positive spirit, rallying for the win after trailing at the end of the tournament’s first two rounds.
Stamper, who placed 25th at last year’s OVC tournament, finished 11th this season. She birdied three of the first four holes after making the turn and shot a 75 for the final round.
Her three-day total was 233 (80-78-75).
Eastern Kentucky led the tournament after the first day with Jacksonville State in second place and Murray State in third place, 12 strokes behind EKU.
By the end of the second round the Racers had trimmed Eastern’s lead to six shots, and Murray State won by two over EKU, 915-917. The tournament took place on the Fighting Joe Course at The Shoals in Muscle Shoals, Ala.
“You can’t win a tournament on the first day, but you can definitely lose it on the first day,” Stamper said. “We felt we were in a good spot. If we came out, kept plugging along and did what we needed to do, good things would happen.
“We have tremendous coaches who are very experienced, and they kept us positive.”
Murray State’s lone senior, Delaney Howson, was medalist, and her birdie putt on the final hole sealed the win for the Racers.
“That was a very exciting moment for her and for us,” Stamper said. “We were jumping up and down, screaming ‘Great job!’ It was a great time.
“I think all the girls played great. I’m very happy to be part of this team. It’s been a great ride.”
MSU head coach Velvet Milkman was named OVC Coach of the Year, and Howson was named the conference’s Player of the Year.
Murray State advances to the NCAA regionals as an automatic qualifier, and will play in the East Regional in Tallahassee, Fla. The top eight teams in each region advance to the national tournament.
“That’s definitely our goal,” Stamper said, “to place in the top eight and advance to the national tournament.”
Milkman started Murray State’s women’s golf program 21 years ago, and every class that has come through the program has won at least one OVC Championship. MSU’s last OVC title came in 2010.
“This is the first year for all of us to be in the regional tournament,” Stamper said. “It’s a new experience, and I’m really excited about going. It’s going to be a great opportunity.”
The OVC win reaffirmed Stamper’s college choice.
“I love Murray State,” Stamper said. “I think it’s the best decision I ever made, especially playing golf. Velvet Milkman is the best, and the town of Murray, everyone is really nice here. And you know your professors. You’re not just a number.”
That comes in handy at times like these, with the golf team leaving next Tuesday for regionals. Next week is finals week at Murray State.
“I have to take all my finals early, but that’s something about Murray State,” Stamper said. “I know all my professors really well, and they’re very helpful in these situations. They work with you, and a lot of it is our coaches and the people in the athletic department.”
It’s all adding up to a stellar year for Stamper.
“I wasn’t playing in the top five like I expected or wanted to do,” she said about the early part of the season, “but I put in a lot of work and things got better. By the end I was playing in the top five, and I got to play in the OVC.
“If you win the OVC and play in a regional tournament, you can’t not be happy.”
The East Regional will be played May 8-10 at SouthWood Golf Club in Tallahassee.
The NCAA Div. I Women’s Golf Regionals are comprised of 72 teams that are divided into three regionals.
Each region has a field of 24 teams and six individuals, and the top eight teams and two individuals from each region advance to the national championship.
The teams in each region are seeded. Duke is the No. 1 seed in the East Regional.
Kentucky (11th) and Louisville (13th) will also be competing at the East Regional. Murray State is seeded 22nd.