NCAA Reward

It's been five years since Ole Miss women's golf made the NCAA Tournament field. But for head coach Michele Drinkard's program, the big announcement came today, in only her second season in Oxford.

Drinkard took over the program prior to last season and there was marked improvement. But this year the Rebels reached some additional goals. They won their first regular season tournament since 2004 back in the fall, claiming the crown at Missouri's event.

But Monday's announcement of the NCAA bid moved the program to another level.

"We reached another goal, and we're really excited to go," said Drinkard, who took Birmingham Southern to two NCAA Tournaments when she was head golf coach there for four years. "We've reached a lot of goals this year by winning the Chancellor's Cup (awarded to one men's and one women's varsity team with the highest cumulative grade point average among all sports at Ole Miss) and winning a tournament. It's all about the process. If you work on the process and only think about the process, the outcome will take care of itself. That's what happened."

The Rebels are in the East Regional along with 20 other teams. The East Regional is May 7-9 at the University of Florida golf course, a layout the older players say they are familiar with, having played there in the past.

Eight SEC teams, including Ole Miss, are in the East Regional field. Only one SEC team, Mississippi State, did not make the NCAA field, which is at three different regional sites.

Joining Ole Miss in the East Regional are Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. Kentucky made the Central Regional, and LSU and Arkansas are in the West Regional.

The Central Regional is at Ohio State and the West Regional is at Arizona State.

This year marks the fifth all-time NCAA tourney appearance for the UM program, although no players on this year's squad have ever been to the team portion of the event.

Senior Dori Carter did participate last season as an individual player. But this year she said it's much better having her teammates along.

"I am so excited and so proud of the team," said Carter, the first All-American in the program's history. "I can't wait to go. It's going to be so much fun. Last year was very different, because I am not used to being out there by myself. This year is going to be great. We are going to play well. We love that golf course. I am so glad we are in Gainesville."

Her teammate, junior Sara Grantham, said the team has worked hard to achieve its goals, and they look forward to joining Carter this time around.

"It's been different because we've had a plan," Grantham said of the Rebel program under Drinkard. "We set our goals at the beginning of the year, and we stuck to the plan. Everybody has exceeded their goals individually and as a team. Last year we watched Dori go, and we were happy for her. But now we are all very excited to go as a team."

Ole Miss first-year assistant coach Alexis Rather, a former LSU golfer, said she is happy to see the team fulfilling its promise.

"I told them to soak in the moment," said Rather, who was an important member of LSU teams that made the NCAA Tournament field. "Not only is this a great opportunity, but it's a reward for their great play this year. I want them to enjoy the experience."

The top eight teams from each of the three Regionals advance to the NCAA Women's Golf Championships at Owings Mill, Maryland.

"We are familiar with a lot of the teams in the (East Regional) field, and we also already beat a lot of them (this year)," Drinkard said. "I know we can go down there and compete. It's all about the process. This week we are taking care of the process, working hard and trying to create shots."

While creating more history and tradition for the women's golf program at Ole Miss.

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