By Matt Hill
GREENEVILLE — The Milligan College women’s golf team is not in contention for a national championship after day one of the NAIA National Championship at the Link Hills Country Club, but the Lady Buffs might be the happiest team in the field.
Milligan ranked 24th among 28 teams, though they ranked between 12 and 19 throughout most of the day. Still, the experience this team has been able to have trumps any score on the card.
Brittany Branker led the charge with an 80, Katilyn Harville shot an 82, Kayla Kmetz finished with an 86, Madison Smith netted an 87 and Sabrina Smithson tallied an 89.
The Lady Buffs were consistent and consistently enough, they were all glad to be participating.
“Before the tournament I felt like I was going to throw up because I was so excited,” Branker said. “I’m just so thankful to the Lord and it’s an honor and blessing to be here. My teammates love being here and they’re excited and we’re pumped to be the first Milligan team here.”
In addition to Milligan’s hometown paper, the Elizabethton Star, being at the tournament, Kasey Marler from WJHL-TV 11 also came by and shot action as the Lady Buffs are getting some great exposure throughout the area.
“It’s a real privilege for us to have a TV crew shooting us out there,” Branker said. “It’s exciting.” For most of the day, Milligan played about as well as it could have expected to. Branker is the ace of the team, and she said she went for some stuff that normally she wouldn’t have gone for.
“We just came out here and wanted to play our best,” Branker said. “I went out there and did my best to play my best. I had a blast and I had a lot of fun. We had nothing to lose, so we might as well go for it and be adventurous and make creative shots, as well as just have fun and surprise ourselves.
“I took some chances, but there were a couple of shots I had to hit out from the rough, but nothing too extreme. It was another day of golf and it was pretty good. I’m happy.”
That excitement of being at the national tournament wasn’t lost on Milligan head golf coach Tony Wallingford, who has guided this team from its beginning stages two years ago.
“It’s only day one, but I am very proud of these girls,” Wallingford said. “They had high anxiety to start this tournament, but they got off and got running and got settled into their routine — and I thought they did a super job today.”
Wallingford wanted his team to go out and play their game, and then if a chance needed to be taken to roll with it like Branker did.
“We tried to calm them down and to get them to play their game and don’t worry about the other girls — it’s you and the golf course,” he said. “Brittany takes some chances and she’s successful a lot of the time — and sometimes she’s not. I always ask what they’re thinking and then I give them my opinion, but ultimately I let them do what they’re most confident in. She did take a few chances.”
With a team full of freshmen and sophomores, Wallingford was really pleased with how they handled the moment.
“I thought we did a great job today for a bunch of young girls,” he said.
Milligan teed off today in the morning session after playing in the afternoon Tuesday.