Sophomore Chad Cooper and freshman Carrie Paul garnered individual glory in the name of Rend Lake College during season-ending National Junior College Athletic Association Golf Championships in Arizona and Florida the past week.
Denied the opportunity to contend for team honors for the first time in recent memory, both the men and women’s programs salvaged memorable seasons once again thanks to the exploits of veteran Lafayette, IN, product Cooper and the continued improvement of the pride of Flora, Paul.
Cooper tied for 12th in the NJCAA Division II Men’s Championships at Palm Valley Golf Club in Phoenix. A superb, three-under par round that had Cooper in a tie for third after the opening round led to his 69-72-76-73-290 showing and Third-Team All-America status.
That was eight strokes better than a year ago, when he shared the team-low for a Warrior squad that finished 10th in the nation in its eighth straight appearance in the finals.
The lanky, long-hitting Paul earned a berth on the NJCAA Women’s National All-Tournament team with a 17th-place finish in the NJCAA Women’s Championships at the LPGA International layout in Daytona Beach.
The top 15 golfers on the leaderboard earn NJCAA All-America recognition; the top 18 receive medals and one of the course flags depicting their National All-Tournament position. (Women’s golf at the Juco level is not split into divisions based on levels of aid available, as are most sports.)
Steady improvement - season-long as well as in the finals - netted Paul her recognition. She saved her best round for last, a 39-42-81, for a 72-hole total of 87-83-86-81-337.
With any kind of luck, both RLC frontrunners might have fared even better.
In Friday’s finale in Arizona, Cooper was two-under par on the 13th hole before faltering slightly and completing his round one-over.
Cooper’s teammate, Bryan Warren (McLeansboro), was making his second appearance in the NJCAA D-II Men’s Championships as well. Warren tied for 83rd in a 141-player field with 18-hole scores of 78-81-75-78-312.
On Thursday, two holes from the conclusion of the women’s event, Paul found her ball in a terrible lie, gambled and found herself in trouble. Nevertheless, her triple-bogey did not prevent her from moving up from 21st after the middle two rounds.
"She was pretty consistent today. She really struck the ball well," commented Lady Warrior Coach Cindy Corn. "She was five-over approaching the last four holes."
Overall, Corn indicated, "hard work paid off. Carrie just kept getting better and better all year.
"She’s excited, naturally. She knows now what she has to do to keep getting better, and she will work at it. I’d love to see her get First-Team All-America next year. I know she can do it."
Because Flora did not have a girls team, Paul played on the boys team during the season before qualifying each of the last two years for the IHSA Girls Finals, where she finished in the Top 25 as a senior.
Lady Warrior sophomores Kerri Wrobel (Warsaw, IN) and Jamie Emery (St. Louis, MO) placed 35th and 37th, respectively, in the middle of the pack. Wrobel recovered from a poor start to shoot 97-90-83-91-361, while Emery was at 94-90-90-93-367.
* Host Daytona Beach Community College overcame McLennan (TX), the leader after each of the first two days, to win the team title in a photo-finish, 1,250-1,251. Redlands (OK) was third at 1,329, followed by Tyler (TX) in fourth at 1,363 and Region XXIV Champion John A. Logan fifth at 1,370 behind All-America honoree Alisha Luigs. It was another 51 strokes to the sixth-place entry in a 13-team field.
* The RLC Lady Warriors won the downstate Illinois regional each of its first two years in existence, then qualified enough individuals a year ago as regional runner-up to still compete as a team in the finals. Corn’s squad was sixth nationally in its initial try in 2000, seventh in 2001 and 10th last spring.
* Perennial men’s contender Tyler (TX) Junior College returned to the throne on the strength of a blistering, first-day 277 tally and composite 277-291-290-287-1,145. South Mountain (AZ) used a similar 277 on the final day to tie Indian Hills (IA) for second at 1,167, followed by Cleveland State (TN) in fourth at 1,173 and Region XXIV champ John A. Logan and Mesa (AZ) knotted at 1,184 in fifth. Brian Norman earned Second-Team All-America rank for the Volunteers after taking ninth at 288.
* Adam Collins of Indian Hills was medalist with his 72-65-73-70-280, four shots ahead of first-round pacesetter Chris Gerela (Tyler) and South Mountain’s Kurt Watkins.
* Coach Dave Smith’s men claimed seven region titles in a row between Fall 1994 and Fall 2000. When that streak ended last season, the Warriors still managed to qualify for the nationals with a runner-up showing, but the loss of one of their top three players (due to family health problems) right before the Region XXIV finals this past fall was too much to overcome.
The Warriors have built a national reputation during that time by placing second (1995), third (’96) and fifth, sixth and 10th twice each.