Golf: Leland eyes national title
Former Alexandria girls' golf standout Maggie Leland put the chance to win a national title on the top of her list of reasons why she chose to play golf at Augustana College in Sioux Falls.
Vikings head coach Peggy Kirby knew Leland had Division I options coming out of high school and would need to put together a strong pitch to get her. Kirby had an advantage because her sister, Molly, was already on the team. To sell her completely, she worked on Leland's competitive nature.
"I knew if I could get her here, I told her she would be one of the top Division II players in the country," Kirby said. "I truly believed that. I think she has the opportunity to be a national champion."
That shot of chasing a national title resonated with Leland from the very beginning of her recruitment. Now as just a sophomore, she has positioned herself to make a run at it heading into the Division II National Championships in Louisville, Kentucky.
Leland and her Augustana teammates, including Minnewaska's Allie Ostrander, earned the chance to play for a team title by winning the Central Region Championship last week. Leland finished third at the tournament with a 17-over 233 and Ostrander shot a 239.
Leland's third-place finish was a continuation of what she has done all season. The former Cardinal state champion finished seventh once this year. Every other tournament outside of regions resulted in a top-two finish for her, including a medalist performance in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Championship.
"She's really playing well," Kirby said. "She's got a competitive spirit that you just don't teach. She's just got it, and that's exciting."
She has been everything Kirby thought she would be when she sold her on playing for the Vikings. Leland has led the country in scoring average for much of the season and is currently third in Division II. Her 74.78 average is just .30 points off co-leaders Courtney Soekland of CSU-Monterey Bay and Sarah Hoffman of Grand Valley State.
Leland has become completely at ease with her game. She knows one hole doesn't make a round. That has helped her become one of the most consistent players in the country.
"I started out a couple of my best rounds with a double or a triple," she said. "When that happens, my focus has been a lot better, and I know I'm at the point in my game where I can make birdie and have holes where I expect to make birdies."
Kirby said her putting and short game have improved dramatically over the past year. Leland has added shots to her repertoire around the green and is averaging almost 250 yards with her driver.
"I feel like I've gained a lot of distance with my driver," she said. "At regions, I only hit my driver four times because the course didn't set up well for that club. When I can hit it out 260, it helps being able to hit a nine iron into the green instead of a six."
Leland should be able to use that to her advantage this week. The Persimmon Ridge Golf Course plays longer than the Sierra Del Rio course did at regions. The course also places a premium on accuracy with tight fairways and fast greens.
"I think the length will play to her favor," Kirby said. "If she can trust her short game, I definitely think she can be in the top five."
Leland has proven that if she's within striking distance on the last day that she can play well under pressure. She trailed by one going into her final round at the state tournament in 2010. Five golfers were separated by just two strokes that day before Leland eagled the second hole and ran away from the pack with a 4-under 69 to wrap up the state title.
All she wants is that same chance on the final day this Saturday. The tournament starts today, Wednesday, before wrapping up on May 19.
"I try to look at it as just another tournament," Leland said. "But we all know it's a bigger deal. It means a lot to be able to compete in a national championship because so many don't get this opportunity. I just have to keep level headed and just have confidence going in."