Mississippi State has had a slew of successful teams in the spring season, and perhaps none moreso than the kick-started women’s golf program.
Making the cut to get into an NCAA Regional, head coach Ginger Brown-Lemm did not fail to notice her team was considered “Just happy to be here” by at least one publication.
Two weeks later, her Bulldogs are one of only 24 teams in the country still left playing. They tee off this morning at Nationals in Athens, Georgia, playing for the National Championship.
Only in her third year at the helm of the program, Brown-Lemm admits things are a bit of ahead of schedule.
“But I always believed in these girls,” she said. “I knew we could do it, and now they believe, too.”
When Brown-Lemm took over the program, it was ranked No. 127 in the country. Two recruiting classes later, MSU is in the Top 50 for the first time since 2006, checking in at No. 40 as it enters Nationals.
And those two recruiting classes are a big part of why MSU is where it is now, as well as why the future seems so promising.
State is one of only two teams playing without a single senior on the roster and is the youngest in the tournament by a wide margin, sporting three sophomores, a junior and a freshman.
Sophomore Ally McDonald is one of the rising stars not just for MSU, but across the country, the No. 15-ranked player in the nation before she even hits 21.
McDonald’s recruitment, which happened at the time Brown-Lemm took over, is a window into the type of players and people Brown-Lemm wants to build her program with.
In choosing a school, McDonald wasn’t looking for the best facilities in the country, the most prestige or the most happening nightlife.
She wasn’t trying to “get” something. She was searching for the place God wanted her.
“Coach came in at a crucial time in this program,” McDonald said. “A big thing was praying about it, trying to figure out if that was where God wanted me to be and after talking to Coach Ginger, it was like, ‘Yes, we both have the same goals. We’re both pushing and striving for the same things.’ Her mindset and my mindset were the same things.”
Obviously, Brown-Lemm looks for good golfers when she’s recruiting, but “everyone is good at this level,” she said.
To truly build a program, and build the one she wants, she looks for the right people. Who they are, not just what they can do.
“I’m not gonna recruit somebody that can play exceptionally well but is incredibly selfish or egotistical,” Brown-Lemm said. “That just doesn’t fit with my personality either. I look for solid, moral kids that come from a good family, that want the same things. I’m a mom, too. I want the people that my kids hang out with on the team to be the example of what I stand for as a coach and a mom.”
Starkville, she believes, is the perfect place for such people.
“It’s a family atmosphere,” she said. “We have the best community support of any institution, but yet we have the small-town feel. I feel like we have a perfect combination of a conservative community, elite competition and we’ve got a team that functions well and really cares about each other and cares if we do well as a squad.”
The rewards of Brown-Lemm’s efforts have been reaped early, coming off the best regular-season in program history and now the first team from Mississippi to ever play at Nationals.
One of the keys to the run has been confidence, something MSU’s coach believes was gained in wild amounts by playing alongside the defending National Champions in the SEC Tournament a few weeks back.
Brown-Lemm’s first mission when she got to MSU was to breathe life into a “tired” program, and she appears to have done so.
“I want them to believe that they are the best in the land,” she said. “There are programs all the time where you think, ‘They’re a Top 20 program? They’re in the middle of nowhere.’ Why can’t it be us? It should be us. But it’s all about your confidence level and if you believe or not.”
It’s happened quickly, but the development has required at least some time and steps. Much of the confidence has been built due to the support and commitment of the athletic department, getting the Bulldogs what they needed to become players on the big stage.
“We focus in all the time on the strengths,” Brown-Lemm said. “We didn’t have a practice facility, we got one. We didn’t have a Mercedes van like anyone else in the SEC, now we got one. Now we’re looking at a new building, a new facility that is their home. That pride steps up. Now, we’re beginning to compete on the golf course with the other SEC teams. Now we’re matching them in facilities, we’ve got the little bells and whistles.”
And now, MSU is contending for the National Title.
“It just goes to show you the power of the mind, the power of a plan, the power of belief in a system,” Brown-Lemm said. “The future is so bright at Mississippi State.”