CARBONDALE — Danielle Kaufman, first-year golf coach at SIU, was blunt.

There were times early this season her team wondered about her.

Kaufman’s philosophy is that the short game wins tournaments. There were practices in which the Salukis didn’t pick up a driver or an iron. They’d simply hit wedges for several hours.

Eventually, the team bought in. Now, that short game has sent the Salukis scrambling to Tumble Creek Club in Cle Elum, Washington, just southeast of Seattle for the NCAA regional. SIU is the 18th seed in the event which will be played May 6-8.

Six teams from each of the NCAA's four regionals advance to the national championship.

“At the beginning they didn’t always understand where my mentality was,” Kaufman said. “They wanted to bang balls. They wanted to go out to the range and hit balls and that’s half the battle. I’m a big person with the short game. Some days we wouldn’t even pick up a driver or an iron. We’d just hit wedges for two or three hours. So for them it was like, ‘Wait, what are we doing?’

“At this level, that’s how you win championships, with your short game. That’s what we did all year. That, and train the mind on being positive. That’s what I developed with these kids.”

The Salukis secured their spot in the NCAA tournament last week by winning the Missouri Valley Conference title. SIU’s three-day total of 905 tied the MVC mark for second-lowest score. It was SIU’s first MVC title since 2007.

The team gathered at the Copper Dragon Wednesday for the NCAA selection show to learn their fate. Although the team knew it was in, there was still a lot of nervous energy. When SIU popped up in the first regional pairings, a scream went up from the team.

“I’m speechless honestly,” said Jackie Biggs. “I don’t know how to describe it. It still hasn’t hit me yet that we’re going even though I just saw on the screen that we are. I couldn’t be more proud of everything this team has accomplished and I’m just glad to be part of it.

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“It’s still pins and needles, you don’t know where you’re going to go. You don’t know the teams you’re going to play. It’s the overall excitement of seeing your name up there means it’s a real thing. That’s when it was like, ‘Oh my gosh this is really happening. I have to prep for this. Can we go now?’”

Moyea Russell, a sophomore, said Kaufman’s positive attitude and insistence on a team approach allowed the team to prosper.

“From the beginning of the season as a team, we were all kind of individualized,” she said. “Really, when we got back from Christmas break we were all like in order to win we have to be a team and a family. That really kind of drove us to be more of family type thing, to be relying on each other and not just individually.

“It’s a lot different from last year. Last year we were more individualized. There would be more girls that would be in clumps together and not interact as a whole team. This year we really established there would be no cliques, be a team, these are your girls for the next four years. They’ll be your sisters eventually.”

As far as playing on a bigger stage, it’s still just golf.

“Our attitude is basically going to be what we did in conference,” Russell said. “Coach told us just go out there and have fun, let other teams make the mistakes.”

The team will have one practice day to familiarize themselves with the course.

“We’re excited about Washington,” Kaufman said. “I don’t know anything about the course. That’s what we’re going to do tomorrow, we’re going to start studying it. We’re ready.”

The Saluki men also qualified for the NCAA tournament. This is the first time in school history both teams qualified in the same year.

“How cool is that?” Kaufman said. “The sweep. We’ve never had that done. We’re all happy for each other."

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On Twitter: @LesWinkeler​


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