"In women's golf, the SEC is one of the toughest in the nation," said Mississippi State head coach Christi Sanders. "It looks like a bunch of mini-professionals out there playing. They can handle their golf game and so many hit it so long. It will be fun to watch and we expect to have a lot of people on hand supporting us."
And the national rankings back up Sanders' compliments of the league.
In the latest Safarin/GOLFWEEK.com rankings, Georgia is third followed closely by Auburn at No. 4 and Vanderbilt at No. 6. Florida and Tennessee are No. 12 and 13.
Rounding out the poll are four other SEC squads, No. 24 Arkansas, No. 25 LSU, No. 26 Alabama and No. 27 South Carolina.
"It's a bonus just to see Old Waverly's golf course," said Sanders. "For the SEC to play here, it will be so exciting and great for all golf fans. And the tournament usually goes down to the wire. The No. 18 hole is a great finishing hole and I expect it to come down to that final hole."
Naturally, the Lady Bulldog golfers know the Old Waverly Course, often regarding it as their home course.
"We are allowed to play at Old Waverly twice a week but we haven't been able to do that when we were traveling a lot," said Sanders. "We have taken advantage of being able to go out there and know the course and we are glad that Old Waverly allows us to come and practice."
But practicing at Old Waverly isn't just limited to State's squad.
"A few other SEC schools have practiced at Old Waverly this season and it helps to know this course," said Sanders. "It seems like we have practiced out there lately and had to battle weather conditions and all with the wind. But that was a good thing, getting our players used to battling the conditions instead of playing on a nice and sunny day."
Sanders hopes the familiarity with the course helps the Lady Bulldogs collect a solid showing at the SEC Championships, which would help offset an otherwise disappointing yet learning season.
After opening the spring session with a Top 5 finish at the Florida-based Chrysler Challenge, State's best showing has been a 13th-place finish at the Suntrust Lady Gator Invitational in Gainesville, Fla.
"Overall, I have been disappointed with our finishes," said Sanders. "As a coach, I have seen a lot of progress. A lot of people look at the scores and may not see it but I can. And to see this progress with a young team, it lets me know it will only make us stronger for the next couple of years.
"But I have to remind myself that this is such a young team and we've had to go back to a lot of fundamentals with this team. Some of those fundamentals you can skip with a veteran team."
Sanders has but one senior on the squad in team leader Amanda Mathis of Picayune, and there are four freshmen/sophomores on the seven-member roster.
However, Mathis has remained consistent this season and gotten stronger of late, a mirror-image of her collegiate career.
Mathis, the 2002 Mississippi Women's Amateur champion, earned all-SEC honors as a sophomore and junior. Last year as a junior, Mathis ended the year with a 74.20 stroke average, the lowest stroke average in school history.
Mathis, who won the Wildcat Invitational back in the fall session, currently leads the team with a 76.26 average, and has played her best golf in her last two events.
In March, Mathis finished runner-up at the LSU/Cleveland Golf Classic and last time out, posted a 19th-place finish in the talent-rich Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic at Georgia.
"Amanda hasn't shot the scores she would like to but she has been impressive in her last couple of events," said Sanders. "She is set to graduate school (communication major) and head off to qualifying school. It is hard to say if she has put more pressure on herself this year but she has a good grip on things right now.
"She gives 110 percent and has a great future in this sport. She has been a joy to coach and every coach should have a player like her."
Sanders also applauded Mathis' leadership with the younger golfers.
"She is caring and helps with advice to other players and I have been so proud to be able to coach her."
In her first semester, Mathis garnered three Top 10 finishes and four Top 20 showings in the fall of 2003. She was already posting the best scores for the Lady Bulldogs.
But then she learned 'a valuable lesson' according to Sanders.
"Amanda has just grown each year and learned a lot each season," said Sanders. "She had so much success in her first semester on campus but then she took off a little bit in the offseason and did not have a good spring.
"That taught her a valuable lesson that she has passed on to the other players. You have to work on your game all year round and you can not take off. And Amanda hasn't since."
Sanders expects Mathis and her teammates to have a solid following around Old Waverly next week. Just like any other college athletic event, the home crowd and support could play a major role.
"We are just thrilled to be able to host and it will be the first time since the 1994 SEC Championships," said Sanders. "It is nice for our kids to be able to be at home and play in front of more friends and the usual parents and family members. Plus, we should have more Bulldog fans and more staff members able to come and support us."
Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Paul, also a sports writer for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.