Bucs ready to contend at Big South Championship

Bucs ready to contend at Big South Championship

CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern vies for an NCAA Regional bid this Monday-Wednesday at the 2017 Big South Championship. CSU, the No. 2 seed in the nine-team field, is set to tee off its first round between 9:40 and 10:20 a.m. Monday at The Patriot at Grand Harbor in Ninety-Six, S.C.

CSU Lineup: No. 1 Hayley McNeill, No. 2 Shelby Thompson, No. 3 Bella Johnson-Schmitz, No. 4 Hannah Barger, No. 5 Milleina Ohara

Field (Seed/Golfstat Ranking): No. 1 Campbell (50), No. 2 Charleston Southern (116), No. 3 Gardner-Webb (147), No. 4 Winthrop (154), No. 5 High Point (169), No. 6 Presbyterian (213), No. 7 Longwood (217), No. 8 UNC Asheville (223), No. 9 Radford (234)

Course: The Patriot at Grand Harbor – Ninety-Six, S.C. – Par 72 – 6,045 yards

Live Scoring: www.Golfstat.com

Tee Times: Monday's First Round – 8:00-10:20 a.m. (CSU tees off between 9:40 & 10:20)

Tuesday's Second Round – 8:00-10:20 a.m. (Tee times dependent on leaderboard)

Wednesday's Final Round – 8:00-9:30 a.m. (Tee times dependent on leaderboard)

Recent CSU results in Big South Championship

2016: 3rd as team (McNeill T-6th; Thompson T-11th; Johnson 14th)

2015: 4th as team (McNeill T-12th; Thompson T-15th)

2014: 6th as team (Johnson T-13th; Thompson T-22nd) (Held at The Patriot)

CSU is confident it can compete for the conference crown and the program's first postseason berth since 2010. The Bucs are led by two of the Big South's top players in junior Hayley McNeill (74.90 scoring average – 3rd Big South) and senior Shelby Thompson (75.28 – 5th). Bella Johnson-Schmitz has come on strong since missing time due to illness earlier this spring, and Hannah Barger and Milleina Ohara have solidified the back end of the rotation.

CSU head coach Matt Cram-Smith will stick with the same approach he's taken all year as the Big South Championship returns to The Patriot for the first time since 2014.

"It's the same message I've had all spring and that's just to play more relaxed and just play our game," Cram-Smith said. "They are really, really good and have just as much talent as anybody. When they get out of their own way and just break down a round of golf as one shot at a time, they've got all the shots they need. They can score and play against anybody."

Campbell cruised to last year's league title and is the No. 1 seed following an excellent campaign. The Fighting Camels will be in the conversation for an at-large NCAA spot if they do not come out on top this week. CSU beat Campbell by two strokes in difficult conditions its last time out, two weeks ago at the Web.com Intercollegiate. A lack of rain in the last two weeks and a clear forecast for the days ahead figure to make for a hard and fast course that will favor the league's top teams.

"If we just play near our potential, we'll be in contention," Cram-Smith said. "I know what to expect. I've been thinking about the course and how it's gonna play for us.  We're in a really good position. I think everybody's kind of hitting their stride a bit so we're excited to get going."

McNeill and Thompson have been the Bucs' top finishers in each of the last two Big South Championship's. The duo has posted some of the best scores in program history throughout the year. Thompson, along with fellow seniors Johnson-Schmitz and Barger, will be looking to cap their careers on a high note and continue the upward trajectory the program has been on during their tenure.

Ohara is coming off a one-under 71 in her last competitive round, a score that was the fourth best of the day in windy, rainy conditions. Barger is also playing her best golf of the year, and has been particularly good in practice the last two weeks.

"Everyone's just gotten a little bit better," Cram-Smith said of the Bucs' step forward this year. "Hannah's really stepped up and contributed some better scores. She's contributed more this year than she ever has when she's gotten to play. Shelby's been finishing tournaments off really well for us. If she can start off a little better, she'll have a complete tournament. Hayley's been pretty consistent all year again. Emelie's helped a lot, Milleina's helped a lot. Everyone's gotten, just across the board, skill-wise, a little bit better. Mentally, a lot better. If we can manage our rounds and play relaxed, we'll be in good shape."