FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Ah, the often debated term, “Dynasty”. What makes up a dynasty? Whether sports fans completely agree or not, we’ve all seen some form of them, ranging from the Chicago Bulls in the ’90s, to the New York Yankees at the turn of the century, and most recently the New England Patriots. In the midst of all the professional prowess, though, there was also another unique dynasty that arose a little over a decade ago at the collegiate level in the form of Nova Southeastern golf.
The athletic department on a relatively unknown campus in Davie, Fla. had just made the jump to the Division II ranks in the 2002-03 academic year, yet a little over six short years later, history was already being made. The date was May 16, 2009 to be exact when the women’s team from South Florida was the one to overcome the chilly Ohio weather, along with a pair of northern counterparts in Grand Valley State and Indianapolis, en route to not only the program’s first-ever National Championship, but the first of any kind for Nova Southeastern.
“I think getting that experience that first year (2008) really helped the girls going into the following year,” then-head coach Kevin Marsh said earlier this week in an interview. “From there, gosh I’m getting old, but I feel like 2009 was probably in Ohio – I think it was at Findlay that we won the National Championship. We wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t have the experience the year before and finishing runner-up in Houston.”
The excitement spilled over into the ensuing weeks and flowed into building a foundation that would sustain the Sharks for years to come. As ground-breaking and special as the first title felt, time would only prove that more were on the way.
The 2009 roster was filled with All-Americans in Sandra Changkija, Taylor Collins and Maria Garcia Austt, who would later each be inducted into the NSU Hall of Fame. Changkija would even later spend a healthy stint on the LPGA Tour from 2012-19, while Collins made her LPGA debut in 2013 after winning the Golf Channel’s Big Break Mexico. Fredrika Hakansson and Nicole Whitmore were also key contributors in that loaded lineup. Lucky for Marsh, though, Garcia Austt was still just a junior while the rest were all sophomores.
Fast forward 364 days later, and the Sharks were crowned back-to-back National Champions in Mesa, Ariz. – this time by a landslide, beating runner-up Rollins by a whopping 40 shots. The pressure to repeat appeared to be nonexistent, as the Sharks led from start to finish, further extending their lead during each of the four rounds. The 2010 team could very well go down as one the all-time greats in college golf history. The group not only boasted the National Player of the Year in Changkija, the National Freshman of the Year in Abbey Gittings, as well as three All-Americans, but also took home the Sunshine State Conference and regional titles as part of winning a remarkable nine of 11 overall tournaments that year.
The dominant stretch didn’t stop there, either. In 2011, Changkija capped her unrivaled career by becoming the first-ever women’s collegiate golfer to outright win the National Player of the Year award a fourth consecutive time. While she was rightfully expected to repeat as the individual National Champion, it was Collins who stole the show this time around, as she captured the individual title in Allendale, Mich. after posting an NCAA Division II Championship 72-hole record for lowest score in relation to par with a combined effort of 10-under 278.
But what was it that truly made the three-year run with that core group so memorable?
“I think it was the individuals,” said Marsh. “It was so fun to see how competitive they were individually, whether it was in workouts or whether it was in practice. It almost felt like when we got to tournaments that was the easy part because we had done so much preparation leading up to them. We were probably more competitive internally with each other. Just going through that whole process of the freshmen coming in, and over the four years seeing them finish with a National Championship – that was definitely the coolest part.”
The 2012 season was supposed to be a rebuild…or so the rest of the Division II landscape thought. Only Gittings returned from 2011’s championship lineup, and as a team, NSU battled through the spring with only four healthy players. Even then, Gittings powered through nagging back issues to win the individual national championship, with National Freshman of the Year Liliana Cammisa and fellow classmate Daniela Ortiz delivering clutch performances to lift the program to its fourth consecutive crown – Rollins had been the only previous DII team to accomplish the feat, doing so from 2003-06.
As the women celebrated history in Shelbyville, Ky., a mere 10 minutes down the road in Simpsonville, the NSU men’s team made history of its own that same afternoon, sweeping Chico State in a head-to-head final to earn its first very first national championship.
The Sharks needed a total strokes tiebreaker to advance to the national final, but once there, remained locked in and took advantage of the opportunity. Just a sophomore, Mitch Farrer rolled to an eight-stroke victory to give the team some early momentum. Three of the remaining four matchups were decided by one shot apiece, yet NSU never flinched.
The Phil Mickelson Award recipient as the top freshman golfer in Division II in 2012, Oscar Lengden entered the collegiate golf world as a champion and exited as a champion after helping the Sharks return to the pinnacle as a senior in 2015.
Yet on the season’s final day that spring, it was a pair of freshmen in Ethan Marcus and Priyanshu Singh that ignited the Sharks to their eventual 3-2 victory over SSC rival Lynn. The pair tallied the first two points for head coach Ryan Jamison‘s crew before it was an all-too-fitting ending that National Player of the Year Santiago Gomez tapped in for birdie on the final hole to seal the deal.
“It didn’t lack excitement, that’s for sure,” Jamison answered immediately after his team had clinched the championship that afternoon. “All the matches were tough, and the fourth match ended up being the deciding point, with Santiago (Gomez) beating (Jose Andres) Miranda. It was hard-fought, and I remember thinking in the fairway that this is the one kid I’d want in that situation, needing a birdie or par to win.”
So you ask, what exactly is a dynasty? Well according to an article written by Bleacher Report, “It starts with championships. Legitimate dynasties also are teams pegged with personality, superstar talent and consistent winning seasons.”
As for the championships – Six in seven years.
As for the superstar talent – Six National Players of the Year and 39 All-Americans.
And as for the winning seasons – Well, I think the championships can attest to that.
Safe to say NSU golf – at least from 2009-15 – fits the bill.
2009: Women’s Golf – Findlay Country Club, Ohio
2010: Women’s Golf – Longbow Golf Club, Ariz.
2011: Women’s Golf – The Meadows Golf Club, Mich.
2012: Women’s Golf – Persimmon Ridge Golf Course, Ky.
2012: Men’s Golf – Cardinal Club Golf Course, Ky.
2015: Men’s Golf – Rock Barn Golf and Spa, N.C.