By Walter Villa
The high standards set by Nova Southeastern University’s golf program have resulted in five national titles during the past four years. But the young golfers’ commitment to their education is just as important.
A perfect example is Daniela Ortiz, a sophomore from Morelia, Mexico. She was named a first-team Division II All-American and the Sunshine State Conference Freshman of the Year last season.
In addition to her obvious golfing talent, Ortiz is a serious student. A communications major, she hopes to attend graduate school at NSU upon graduating with her bachelor’s degree.
“Right now, I’m more into studying than being a pro golfer,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz is a key player in NSU’s women’s team, which this spring will attempt to become the first National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I or Division II golf program to win five straight national titles. This feat has not been accomplished since Yale’s men team won seven in a row from 1905 to 1911.
NSU’s men’s program earned its first national title last season, becoming the fourth university in NCAA history to win men’s and women’s national golf championships in the same year. Other universities with this honor include Arizona State (1990, Division I); Florida Southern (2000, Division II); and Methodist (2010, Division III).
In addition, NSU’s men’s golf team has just earned the Golf Coaches Association of America (GCAA) All-Academic Team recognition, which is presented by Farmers Insurance Group. To qualify for GCAA All-Academic Team recognition, a team must earn a combined grade point average of 3.0 for the entire academic year. The Sharks were one of only 14 Division II schools to earn All-Academic Team honors. A total of 124 schools were honored by the GCAA this year.
Making NSU’s accomplishments even more astonishing is the fact that the titles have occurred under the tutelage of three different head coaches.
Kevin Marsh raised the bar for the program by winning the first three national titles coaching the women. When he resigned to pursue other opportunities, Amanda Brown, who was Marsh’s associate head coach, kept the tradition going by winning a women’s national title, the program’s fourth straight. Brown also was a former NSU golfer and All-American.
This year brings more coaching turnover as Ryan Jamison, 30, was promoted to the men’s head coaching position.
“I embrace the challenge as a first-time head coach,” said Jamison, a native of Garland, Texas, who had served as an assistant coach at NSU from 2006 to 2010 before returning to his alma mater, DePaul University, for the past two years.
“Everybody says that since I inherited a national champion team there must be a lot of pressure. But I don’t really feel it. The reality is that the structure already was in place at NSU,” said Jamison.
Now Jamison will teach a group of young golfers led by junior Ben Taylor, a native of England who was the SCC Player of the Year and a first-team All-American last season. Taylor, who is majoring in sport and recreation management, was also selected as one of the 2012 Jack Nicklaus Award winners, presented by Jack Nicklaus, as the Golf Coaches Association of America Division II Collegiate Player of the Year.
Three other key returners from last season’s men’s team are junior Mitch Farrer of England (finance major); junior Richard Celia of Colombia (business administration major); and sophomore Oscar Lengden of Sweden (major undecided), who was the National Freshman of the Year for 2012.
Rounding out the men’s roster are sophomore James Swan of England (marketing major), sophomore Ian Facey of Miami (finance major) and freshman Hunter O’Mahony of Tequesta, Florida (major undecided).
Farrer said winning last season was an “amazing experience” that he will never forget, and he expects more great things this time around.
“The fact that we have a new coach isn’t going to change a thing,” Farrer said. “If we have the same attitude as last season – which we will – I fully believe that there isn’t a better team than us.”
The same can likely be said about the women’s team, which won the national title last season seemingly against the odds. The Sharks opened last season without its two stars, Sandra Changkija and Taylor Collins, both of whom graduated.
Changkija, a four-time National Player of the Year, is now competing on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour. Collins, meanwhile, is playing on the Futures Tour, which is just one level below the LPGA.
Fortunately for NSU, the Sharks had Ortiz, Abbey Gittings of England, and Liliana Cammisa of Argentina. Gittings, a senior majoring in sport and recreation management, also was named the National Player of the Year by the National Golf Coaches Association. She won the individual NCAA Division II national title as well. Cammisa, a sophomore with a team-high 3.67 GPA in sport and recreation management, was named the National Freshman of the Year and a first-team All-American.
The NSU women’s team, which lacked depth last season, has improved in that regard, adding standout freshman Linnea Johansson of Sweden, junior Rachel Lewis, a native of Wales and a transfer from South Carolina Upstate, and Ana Paula Costa, a freshman from Brazil.
Brown, the women’s coach, said this year’s team is deeper and better, but she is quick to add that it’s not always about winning.
“The most rewarding part of the job is helping the players become better people,” Brown said. “To see them go on to play pro golf or take a 2.0 GPA and make it a 3.5 or simply to get married and have kids or get a great job … Those are things that define our program just as much as the national titles.”