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How a hard-working coach and two passionate seniors built Ole Miss into a NCAA champion

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – A couple of days earlier than Julia Johnson arrived in Oxford, Miss., for her first semester at Ole Miss in August 2017, she jotted down a record of targets. The fifth and remaining objective on that piece of paper was written in all caps.


Johnson can now lastly cross that one off.

The Rebels senior and her teammates delivered Ole Miss its first NCAA Championship – in any sport – with a convincing 4-1 victory over Oklahoma State in Wednesday’s match-play remaining at Grayhawk Golf Club.

“I always believed that we could do this,” Johnson stated, “and not a lot of people did.”

Johnson, of St. Gabriel, Louisiana, was initially destined to stay in state, verbally committing to LSU as a sophomore in highschool. But her path modified shortly after Kory Henkes was employed to guide the Ole Miss ladies’s program in June 2015. Johnson had joined buddies and Rebel commits Macy Holliday and Conner Beth Ball at an LSU at Ole Miss soccer recreation that fall, and although a respectful Henkes stored her distance, she left a lasting impression on Johnson.

It wasn’t lengthy earlier than Henkes’ cellphone rang.

Hi, I’m Julia Johnson and I’d like to play for you.

“I basically begged her to let me come to Ole Miss,” Johnson stated, “just because I wanted to be there and wanted to be with her so much.”

Together, Henkes and Johnson have built one thing particular. Before destiny led Johnson to Oxford, Henkes sat down for her first staff assembly and instantly laid out some lofty targets, together with SEC and NCAA championships.

“A couple of the girls looked around and laughed, like, Yeah, right, not here,” she recalled. “So, I quickly learned I needed to change the culture and change us to a winning mindset. Did I think it would happen in six years? Probably not, but if you get the right people in place, good things happen.”

Ole Miss women’s golf receives NCAA title trophy

Johnson was the decided chief that the hard-working and passionate Henkes wanted to ignite this system when she joined the staff two years later. In her first season, Johnson was named SEC Freshman of the Year and then fired a closing 67 at regionals to guide Ole Miss to its first-ever NCAA Championship. However, the Rebels completed final at nationals that season, a signal that Henkes’ program construct was not but full.

Enter Kennedy Swann, the wild persona from Austin, Texas, who after 5 semesters at Clemson was determined for a new residence. Unsurprisingly, Ole Miss was on the high of Swann’s record, however the curiosity wasn’t initially reciprocated. There have been loads of pink flags.

“I was extremely immature,” Swann stated. “My golf game sucked. My putting was horrible. I didn’t really know what I was doing.”

Added Henkes: “I didn’t know if it was the right fit for our program.”

At first, Henkes advised Swann no, however she quickly modified her thoughts, albeit providing Swann an ultimatum: You mess up as soon as and you’re carried out.

Swann by no means tousled. She channeled her countless vitality into unwavering positivity, turning into the yin to the level-headed Johnson’s yang. Her recreation improved, too, and in her first semester with the Rebels, she went 3-0 in match play on the 2019 SEC Championship to guide Ole Miss to its first convention crown. Later that season, the Rebels made strides on the nationwide championship, tying for 14th.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without this team,” Swann stated. “They have yelled at me when I needed to be yelled at and hugged me when I needed to be hugged.”

And danced along with her when she’s needed to bop. Before Wednesday’s pressure-packed remaining within the desert, the Ole Miss gamers busted out their greatest strikes on Grayhawk’s driving vary.

There was loads to have fun already:

Navigating a pandemic-affected season with out a single constructive take a look at.

Winning twice and coming into a third straight NCAA Championship because the fifth-ranked staff within the nation.

Overcoming accidents to two of their greatest gamers, Chiara Tamburlini and Ellen Hume, to make match play for the primary time.

Taking down Texas and Arizona for the chance to play for a nationwide championship.

All that was left was to go win the rattling factor.

Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter, a former All-American basketball participant for the Rebels, described Henkes’ staff as reflecting all of the attributes of their coach: Gritty, robust, fiery. That was on full show in opposition to the Cowgirls, who have been additionally making an attempt for college historical past, hoping to develop into Oklahoma State’s first ladies’s nationwide champion.

Tamburlini received Ole Miss on the board first. Still fuming from giving up a 3-up lead within the semifinals, the sophomore jumped on Lianna Bailey early and by no means let up in a 6-and-5 victory. It was a dominating efficiency by a participant who virtually wasn’t ready compete.

After the SEC Championship, Tamburlini began experiencing extreme dizziness, vomiting and bleeding in her ears. Doctors decided her to be affected by labyrinthitis, an an infection of the inside ear. She wore a headband over each ears for a lot of the week, although halfway by her rout of Bailey, she took it off. She was feeling significantly better.

Swann then earned the second level, going out first in opposition to first-team All-American Maja Stark and profitable, 2 and 1. Swann capped her match by sticking her strategy to gimme vary on the par-4 17th. Stark shortly grabbed Swann’s ball and tossed it over within the tough earlier than lacking a putt to remain alive.

The clinching level had then develop into inevitable. Sophomore Andrea Lignell was arising the penultimate gap with a 2-up lead on Isabella Fierro whereas Johnson was main Rina Tatematsu 4 up with 4 to play. Lignell ended up sealing the cope with Johnson and her opponent on the 15th inexperienced.

Upon listening to official phrase that it was over, Henkes turned to Johnson, the participant most accountable for the Rebels’ rise, and stated, merely, “We’re national champions!”

Over at No. 17, the remainder of the Ole Miss gamers have been frantically trying to find Johnson, making a temporary sprint by the desert solely to finish up again the place they began. Moments later, they noticed Johnson working towards them down the 17th fairway with Henkes shut behind.

They met within the center, and the celebration ensued with the surprisingly massive Ole Miss contingent. Carter had flown in that morning together with a number of others, together with Glenn Boyce, the college’s chancellor, and Chris Malloy, the Rebels males’s golf coach. Henkes’ husband, Kenneth, was additionally there to witness historical past.

Before Wednesday, no Ole Miss sports activities staff had performed for and received an NCAA Championship. Football claims three nationwide titles, in 1959, 1960 and 1962, although none of these are widely known. And beforehand solely two packages had competed in an NCAA remaining, males’s tennis in 1995 and air rifle this 12 months.

“This sets the tone for our department,” Carter stated. “We talk all the time about winning championships. We don’t want to just show up. They validated that today.”

Also a part of the group of Crimson and Yale Blue have been two previous Ole Miss student-athletes. Ronald “Goldie” McClendon and his spouse, Jade, have been each two-sport stars for the Rebels who graduated in 2004. Ronald performed soccer and ran observe. Coincidentally, Ole Miss beat Oklahoma State within the Cotton Bowl his senior season.

Jade, in the meantime, is a part of the Rebels ladies’s golf household. When she was in class, the thought of this program profitable a nationwide title was a pipe dream. Her and her teammates didn’t have a multi-million-dollar observe facility again then. Heck, they didn’t even get a clubhouse till her remaining season.

The McClendons, who reside in Scottsdale, gave the coaches and gamers good-luck bracelets earlier than the ultimate. They labored.

“It’s like a sisterhood,” she stated, “and when you know the grit that these girls have been through and put forth to be in these moments, it’s just amazing. I feel like a proud mommy.”

Henkes was overwhelmed by the help.

“It really takes a village,” she stated quite a few occasions Wednesday night.

Swann couldn’t maintain again the tears, both. Not solely had she capped her Ole Miss profession by profitable all of it, however Johnson, a doubtless first-team All-American, had determined to forfeit the exemption she had simply acquired into the Marathon LPGA Classic later this summer time and go it on to Swann, who plans to show professional and compete in Q-School this fall.

“That was so selfless of her,” Swann stated. “That means the world to me. That’s going to be a large assist for me in my professional profession.”

As for Johnson, she has no plans for making the soar to the play-for-pay ranks any time quickly.

She’s coming again for an additional 12 months, and she has a new objective: Going back-to-back.

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