The voice of USF Athletics, Jim Louk, will routinely put down his radio headset and pick up the pen to share his perspective on the history of USF Athletics.
Louk has been broadcasting games for 27 years and is the resident historian in the Athletics Department hallways ... This week he remembers the 1990 and 1991 national championship contenders - the USF women's golf team.
The Best USF Team You’ve Never Heard Of
If I told you a USF team had a great run of success at the end of the ‘80s and beginning of the ‘90s, you would say “I know. Men’s basketball.”
True enough. That was a great era for the Bulls as they went to the NCAA Tournament twice in three years.
But there is another USF program that had even more success in those years. It was a team that put together perhaps the best two back-to-back seasons any USF program has ever enjoyed. It was a team that went to the NCAA Championships two years in a row and finished in the top 10 in the nation both times.
It was a team that came achingly close to winning a national championship.
It happened 20 years ago, making the telling of their story long overdue.
Kneeling: Margie Arnold, Coach Dan Gierlach
Standing: Anna Acker-Macosko, Jennie Holloway, Sally Dee, Susan Veasey
USF’s women’s golf ended a six-year absence from the NCAA Championships in 1990 when they made the field at Hilton Head, S.C. Arizona State won the championship that year, but there was USF, finishing 10th, right behind Stanford and just ahead of Indiana.
While the 1989-90 Top 10 finish was a great accomplishment, in reality it was only a building block to an even better season. Four of USF’s five top individual finishers in 1990 were coming back, setting the stage for another step forward in 1991.
“It was a building year,” recalls Anna Acker-Macosko, a mainstay of both NCAA Championship teams. “It takes awhile to get through the mental process of beginning to think of your team as a championship team. That year was a confidence builder.”
Dee and Veasey
“We started to think of ourselves as national contenders,” says Sally Dee, a freshman on the 1989-90 team and now a USF assistant coach. “We were changing conferences frequently around that time, so we didn’t really focus on conference championships. We had a lot of confidence, and every player had a dream of playing on the LPGA tour.”
The 1990-91 season opened with a veteran core of players returning. Dee and Acker-Macosko were back, as were Susan Veasey and Jennie Holloway. Coach Dan Gierlach had arrived in January 1987 and after the success of the prior year, believed his 1990-91 squad would contend.
“I knew we had a really good team,” Gierlach says. “Any coach would like to have the seven players on that team.”
Coming in to that season, the top four were pretty well set; All-Americans Veasey and Acker-Macosko, as well as Dee and Holloway would be at the top, in varying order during the season. That allowed Gierlach to encourage competition for the fifth spot. The battle between Margie Arnold, Tracy Brush and Cynthia Hogue insured the team would be strong top to bottom.
A tournament at LSU was a key moment during the season. “It was rainy and misty,” recalls Acker-Macosko. “But we always could play in bad weather. We won that day, and that propelled us through the spring.”
“It was the worst weather you could imagine,” recalls Gierlach. “It was pouring, cold rain with puddles everywhere. But that’s when I knew they were ready. You could see it in their eyes.”
At the top after the first round in Columbus
A successful season led to a date at the Scarlet Course at Ohio State in Columbus for the NCAA Championships. The Bulls opened with a 298. After one round, USF was at the top of the leaderboard, three rounds away from a national championship.
“I remember them being first and I remember them not being overly surprised,” says longtime sports information director John Gerdes, who travelled with the team. “They had talent and a healthy confidence.”
“Not overly surprised,” laughs Acker-Macosko in agreement. “Maybe pleasantly surprised. I did think we had the talent for a top five finish.”
“I remember doing a TV interview and being told how surprised I must be for USF to be in first. I said to the reporter the only people that are surprised are you folks,” says Gierlach.
“When you dream you want to dream big, but we had worked hard and we deserved to be there,” adds Veasey. “We knew it wasn’t a fluke.”
There was no folding the next day, as USF matched their opening round with another 298. It wasn’t enough to preserve the lead though, as the Bulls fell to third.
With a four day total of 1,217, USF finished fourth, behind champion UCLA, San Jose State and Arizona. Acker-Macosko had the highest individual finish at 13th. Veasey was 16th, Dee 26th, Holloway 40th and Arnold 86th.
With exception of rifle and swimming, it was, and is, the best national finish for any USF team.
To Dee, the formula for success that year was simple.
“It began with recruiting and the players that Dan Gierlach brought in. In the end it’s all about the players. We pushed each other. We were always willing to help each other. And we got in to great tournaments, played great teams, and beat them.
“Dan Gierlach cared about us, and he let us play,” says Dee. “He motivated us by inspiring competition between us.”
Acker-Macosko, Veasey and Dee, all of whom went on to success on the LPGA tour, remember the closeness of the 1990-91 team.
“We had very different personalities,” says Acker-Macosko. “But our team really liked each other. We were like one big family and that’s one of the best life memories you can pull away from that.”
“We wanted to play well for each other,” says Veasey. “We wanted to do something great for the University.”
“I was 1,200 miles from home” adds Dee, a native of Syracuse, N.Y. “This was like a built-in sorority.”
Gierlach places the credit squarely on the players. “We never had a problem. They were so self motivated. Look at their careers. Look at where they’ve gone since.”
Indeed, the post-college resumes of the seven members of the 1990-91 team are filled with successes, on the golf course and off.
Not a surprise for a team that excelled quietly, and lifted USF women’s golf to the national stage.
Twenty years have passed, but time hasn’t lessened the accomplishments of one of the greatest teams in USF history.
Be Sure to Follow the Voice of the Bulls, Jim Louk, on Twitter at @USFjimlouk