"She is the flagship. She's the athlete that is going to help us turn this program from a participant in the SEC to a competitor in the SEC. She has the golf game, the character and she has the personality. She is the total package. And she really has facilitated putting us back into a situation where people are looking at Mississippi State that might not have in the past."
When a player is as good as Ally is do recruits just know about her and want to play alongside her?
"That, and I think that golf is such a character driven sport that people know a lot of your competitors on a personal basis. All these junior golfers have grown up playing against each other in the AJGA or the SJGT, so they know who you are, especially if you win. And she has been very successful at the junior level, so they have kind of followed here all the way to Mississippi State. Ally was down to us and a couple of other SEC schools and she chose Mississippi State, not because of the fruits of my labor. (Former MSU golf coach) Christy Sanders hit that one out of the park."
Switching over to the girls you just signed, what do you like about each one of them?
"Logan Chaney is from Scottsboro, Alabama. Her best golf is absolutely ahead of her. I love her fire. She is so dedicated. She is going to be a player who gives it all that she has. And she has improved exponentially just in the past year. She works with Mark Blackburn in Alabama. She needs a little more length but she is working with a trainer for that.
"Blaise Carabello is originally from Houston (Texas). She's from the Jim McLean Golf Academy in Texas. I don't think you will find a more dedicated player than she is. She gets up at 6 am and either practices or works out or do both before she gets on a shuttle bus to a school that is 45 minutes away. She leaves there and comes back and plays golf all afternoon until dark. Then, she does her academic work. She has an incredible work ethic. She is going to be an exceptional player. And she has already had a lot of success as a competitor.
"The other two we signed are (the 39th ranked junior player in the world) Jessica Peng and Gabi Oubre.
"Jessica comes to us from China. I found her on the internet through the AJGA website. I noticed that she only had one tournament listed but the one she did have she shot 70, 71, 70. That rung a bell, so I emailed her. We started corresponding and she sent me her tournament schedule. I then flew out to California and watched her play 36 holes for a US Women's Open Qualifier on a 6400 to 6500 yard golf course. She shot 78, 72 and had an incredible spirit about herself. She showed a very good personality. She hit a few errant shots but was very, very smart on her recovery shots. I really liked what I saw, so I checked her out thoroughly and corresponded more. I knew that Pepperdine and Ohio State were recruiting her. And in an around about way, a current player on our team, Rica Tse from New Zealand who is originally from China, finds out that I am recruiting a girl from China and it turned out that they had the same golf professional at one time. Rica was able to share with her what it is really like here. That just sealed the deal. While we are ranked in the 90s, Pepperdine and Ohio State are among the top 30 to top 40 programs. So, we were very fortunate.
"The fourth player, who I an incredibly fond of and proud to have, Gabi Oubre came to us late in the game. She was at our SEC Championship, which was played at the University of Auburn. Auburn won the championship and offered her on the spot and she accepted the offer. We thought we were out of the game. It was a big disappointment to us because she fit our program perfectly and she had great friends on our team. Then, out of the blue, several weeks ago we received a call saying that she was questioning her decision and wondering if there was still a spot for her. I said absolutely. One thing led to another and she did in fact change her mind and signed with us yesterday."
That was huge for your program to beat Auburn for her signature because they are a very good golf program.
"They are currently ranked number 3 in the country and the reigning SEC champ. And Alabama is number 2. There is a sense of pride to sign someone like that. Leigh Phillips, our assistant coach, and I have worked very, very hard but I think because we have those exceptional character-driven athletes like Ally McDonald, Esther Huffman, Mary Langdon Gallagher, that automatically attracts young ladies that have that moral code and that character-driven way they live their life. We pride ourselves on being a team and a family first. And from that comes a commitment level where you don't want to let your sisters down. And good golf comes from that."
You mentioned who recruited Jessica Peng and Gabi Oubre. What schools recruited Logan Chaney and Blaise Carabello?
"Logan was heavily recruited by UAB and Middle Tennessee talked to her. And Blaise (unofficially) visited 12 different schools before she found the place she liked. She wanted to be very thorough. The way we found out about Blaise is a former assistant at Kentucky called us with her name and told us that she would be very appreciative if we would take a look at her. We knew it was a tip that we could trust. And sure enough it has really worked out perfectly."
It sounds like Jessica and Gabi are elite players, possibly similar to the talent level of Ally McDonald. Am I correct in saying that?
"You can add (current MSU freshman) Rica Tse to that list because she is also exceptional. She just took more time to adjust. So, we already have two great players. Then you add Jessica Peng and Gabi Oubre to the mix. That adds even more depth, which you have to have."
With the talent level that you will have next year, what are your expectations for next year?
"I feel strongly that we will be among the top 40 in the US next year."
And you will be a young team with mostly freshmen and sophomores and a couple of juniors.
"We will have two exceptional juniors in Mary Langdon Gallagher and Esther Huffman. They are very seasoned because we rode them very hard last year as freshmen. We also have a senior this year Perry Katherine Furr who has done an outstanding job this year. She has led the girls by example and work ethic. I could have not asked for a better senior."
Thinking about that, all of next year's team will be back the following season. So, your team should be even better the next year, possibly top 15 in the nation.
"That's the goal. I was at the University at Texas when we were ranked number 1 going into nationals. That's where you want to be as a coach. And that is what you want for your girls."
If you do achieve that type success, what could that potentially do for your future recruiting?
"It will feed on itself. Plus, you can add in the character of what we are trying to do. I can't stress that enough. I care about that a lot. I care about how athletes behave. I have kids who come out after school and they hang out with the girls. I want this team to be held up as an example of how to be a successful human being."
It sounds like your goal is to have a perennial top 10 to top 15 type program.
"That's my goal. I promise you one thing I couldn't do it without Coach Phillips."
How important has she been to your recruiting success and team success?
"I have never had an assistant coach before. I was at Arkansas State for two years and had no assistant and no help at all. Then, I get her and hire Leigh, who had been here her whole life. She had been coming to football games since she was two years old. She lived and breathed it. Then, you have an administration who buys into our program by providing the facility enhancements and budgetary concerns."
You mentioned facility enhancements. You have your new practice facility. Now, you are about to add a new van which will be used exclusively for golf.
"It is amazing how our alumni base sees need and then attacks it. Ben Nelson and his son, Benji, have stepped up and assumed a role as a fundraiser. They saw the need and took it among themselves to make it happen for our golf program so that we could compete and recruit."
Next up is a building to be used exclusively for golf.
"The practice facility is now there. We are adding the van to the mix this coming spring. That makes our recruiting a little bit easier. Now, we want to add the team building, which revolves around the player. Everything we design here revolves around the player."
What will be in the team building?
"We would have a conference room for studying/team meetings. We would have a players lounge, where we want them to hang out and study and have fun. We would have locker rooms where they could store all of their equipment. We would have an area where we can take recruits. Then, we would have our hitting bays in the back where they could hit golf balls no matter what the weather might be. We would have a technology bay which would be in the center of the hitting bays that would have our cameras and video systems. We would even have putting holes cut into the concrete so we can putt when the weather is bad."
You are also hosting your own tournament in 2012?
"We hosted the SEC Championship in 2006 but we haven't hosted our own tournament since then. I asked Old Waverly (if we could use their golf course) and they said absolutely. So, September 10th through the 12th of 2012 we will host our inaugural Old Waverly-Bulldog Invitational. Our first slate of invitees are all the SEC programs including Texas A&M and Missouri. It might take us a year, two or three to build it up."
How is the Maroon Tee booster club doing?
"It's doing great. We are getting new members all the time. Our second annual Maroon Tee Classic will be held at Old Waverly on May 11th. That is an opportunity for all of our alumni and boosters and members of the Maroon Tee Club to play golf with a current golf team member, or coach or staff member of the athletic department. It's an opportunity for us to share our success and enjoy their company and have some fun."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.