Michael Wade photo courtesy Auburn Tigers
Coach Melissa Luellen was among the last to find out her Auburn Tigers had won a conference championship: her focus was on setting redshirt junior Brooke Sansom up on the 18th fairway to earn the third and final point.
She then saw her players sprinting down the fairway to reveal the breaking news: Fifth-year Elena Hualde Zuniga saved her teammate the trouble and got it done just a few holes behind her -- making the late news totally worth it.
It was the senior’s ultra-precise approach on the 16th hole at Greystone Golf & Country Club on Sunday that awarded No. 9-ranked Auburn its 10th SEC conference championship in a dominant late stretch over Mississippi State.
Auburn was in constant orbit from day one, earning the third seed in match play from a 25-under stroke play finish. But Luellen knew her players’ time to shine was the weekend.
“They love match play, they eat it up,” Luellen told SEC Network. “I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Indeed they did. Tigers Mychael O’Berry, Megan Schofill and Kaleigh Telfer quickly got to work. Saturday morning’s quarterfinals was the beginning of their day-long domination, where all three won each of their matches in both stages. O’Berry excelled, winning 7&6 over Vanderbilt’s Morgan Baxendale, and Schofill followed suit with a 5&4 win over Auston Kim. Telfer defeated Louise Yu after 18 holes to advance Auburn into semifinals against No. 7 seed Alabama.
The in-state rivals battled it out, with the Crimson Tide’s determination bringing the match into a playoff hole. Auburn’s Schofill refused to go down without a fight, bringing Benedetta Moresco to a 19th hole after a clutch birdie putt. She mimicked her mastery on the 19th, with another birdie putt to win the match, while O’Berry toppled Kenzie Wright 2&1 to take Auburn to the final.
Meanwhile, Mississippi State’s looming threat was looking even bigger, overthrowing No. 1 seed LSU in its semifinal match. Bulldogs Abbey Daniel and Blair Stockett each won their matches 2&1 against Carla Tejedo Mulet and Latanna Stone, while Hannah Levi toppled Kendall Griffin in a heated 2UP win.
Sunday’s final round rolled in, with clear skies and two coaches filled with unmistakable resolve: First-year coach Mississippi State coach Charlie Ewing in the hunt for his first win, and Auburn coach Luellen hungry for her first, long sought after conference title.
In the end, it was Luellen whose players ate up enough of match play to quell their collective hunger to become the 2021 SEC Champions.
It took a moment to work up an appetite. Auburn struggled to claim an outright lead until the early back nine, where Megan Schofill’s tee shot on the par-3 13th skilfully set her up to birdie the hole and take the lead for the rest of the match over Ashley Gilliam for a point.
Telfer’s crunch-time 18th birdie earned the first point over Daniel. Hualde Zuniga had been locked in a tie with Levi for seven holes before the Tiger turned the tide and attacked the pin from the 16th fairway to land inches from the hole to secure the 3&2 win.
Even with a remarkable late stretch comeback, Luellen noted that she didn’t have a message for her players. In Sunday’s case, it was performance over prose that took the Tigers to glory.
With NCAA Regionals on the horizon, the work for the Tigers is not quite over; but an incredible performance behind them to mark off another win on the 2020-21 season calendar (the first coming from the Liz Murphey Fall Collegiate Classic) will surely play into their favor come selection time.
ABOUT THE SEC Women's Championship
54-hole stroke play tournament crowns an individual
champion, then four teams advance to match play
determine the SEC team champion.
View Complete Tournament Information