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April 19, 2012

SEC ChampionshipGet Acrobat Reader | Championship Central

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina women’s golf team will tee off at the 2012 SEC Championship on Friday in Fayetteville, Ark. The 54-hole tournament runs through Sunday at the Blessings Golf Course, which will feature a par-72, 6,134-yard layout.

The Gamecocks enter the weekend after wrapping up one of the toughest regular season schedules in the country. South Carolina head coach Kalen Harris says playing a challenging schedule, which ranked 15th in the nation this season, is the only way to prepare her team for the field it will face this weekend at the SEC Championship.

“If you are contending in the SEC Championship, then you are a top team in the country,” Harris said. “That just speaks for the SEC and how tough and competitive it is. I feel like the season has prepared us very well for the postseason, and we are looking forward to it. We just need to go out there and play one shot at a time and give ourselves a good chance to contend on Sunday.”

For the first time this season, Harris is going with a lineup of senior Katie Burnett, juniors Amanda Strang and Meredith Swanson, sophomore Samantha Swinehart and freshman Justine Dreher.

Burnett is making her fourth appearance at the SEC Championship, with her best finish being a tie for 15th in 2010. Strang is competing in her third conference championship, with her best showing being a tie for 28th in 2010. Swinehart is making her second appearance after finishing tied for 32nd last season. Swanson and Dreher are making their SEC Championship debuts. Swanson enters the weekend with the second-best scoring average on the team (75.22), one top-10 finish and one top-20 showing. Dreher is fourth on the team in scoring (75.50) and has one top-20 finish.

South Carolina has had plenty of success in 20 appearances at the SEC Championship. The Gamecocks won the 2002 SEC title in Athens, Ga. with a score of 861, as Kristy McPherson won medalist honors to lead the way with a score of 209. Carolina finished runner-up in 1995 and has claimed third on four occasions. McPherson also won medalist honors at the 2001 SEC Championship in Gainesville, Fla.

At last season’s championship, the Gamecocks shot a final-round 287 (-1) to climb the leaderboard and finish in fifth place at the Auburn University Club in Auburn, Ala. Then-freshman Suzie Lee tied for ninth with a score of 219 to lead the way, while Burnett and Katie Rose Higgins tied for 24th. Strang wrapped up the event in a tie for 29th, and Swinehart tied for 32nd.

The SEC has become one of the premier golf conferences in the country, and the rankings prove it. Heading into the weekend, seven SEC teams are ranked in the Golf World/NGCA Top 25, while all but one team is ranked in the Golfweek Top 50. No. 2 Alabama, No. 5 Auburn, No. 6 LSU, No. 7 Vanderbilt, No. 10 Georgia, No. 14 Tennessee and No. 17 Florida headline the field in the Golf World/NGCA Poll, while South Carolina (21), Mississippi (34), Arkansas (35) and Kentucky (43) are in the Golfweek Top 50. The Gamecocks have competed against every SEC team this season, compiling a record of 13-28.

South Carolina will tee off in the first round on Friday at 9:20 a.m. and will be paired with Florida and Arkansas. Live scoring will be available at