Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
KENT, Ohio - By and large, golfers are compulsive tinkerers. Some change the grip, the stance, the mental approach as regularly as they change their socks.
In the case of the Central Michigan golf team, coach Cheryl Stacy may have hit on something as the Chippewas prepare for the Mid-American Conference Championships this weekend at Silver Lake Country Club.
The Chippewas will join their 10 league brethren in the three-day, 54-hole stroke-play event, hosted by perennial power Kent State.
And while contending for the title may be a stretch at this point for the still-young CMU program, it's certainly well within reason that the Chippewas can improve, both in score and in standing, over their performances in the last two MAC Championships.
The Chippewas showed signs of potential two weeks ago, when they finished third in the 10-team Dolores Black Invitational in Bowling Green, Ohio. The third-place finish was the best for a Chippewa squad since the program was resurrected in fall, 2014. The MAC Championships will be their 30th tournament over that three-year stretch.
Chippewa coach Cheryl Stacy said she changed her approach before the Dolores Black, urging her players to stay loose during the practice round in hopes that it carried over to the tournament.
"Keeping the right attitude and being more relaxed helps," she said. "That was our approach at Bowling Green, and that seemed to help the mindset going in."
Two Chippewas, Natalie Johnson and Danielle Sawyer, finished in the top 10 on the individual leaderboard at the Dolores Black. Johnson's third-place finish tied for the best by a Chippewa golfer since the program's reboot.
Her tournament included a career-best 73 in the opening round, after which she was tied for the lead. She finished at 153, while Sawyer shot 79-78 to come in at 157 and in eighth place.
The Chippewas found themselves just seven shots out of first place after the first round, and they finished the tournament just five shots behind second-place Bowling Green on the Falcons' home course.
"I think definitely they gained confidence," Stacy said, adding that it should help that the Chippewas played at Silver Lake in October at the MAC Fall Preview. "We were there in the fall and the golf course is challenging. They know they're going to have to have their A games."
Kent State, which is ranked 12th, is the prohibitive favorite heading into the Championships as it vies for its 19th consecutive league title.
The Chippewas shot 958 a year ago in the MAC Championships, finishing last, 38 strokes behind ninth-place Ball State. It was a vast improvement - 81 shots, in fact -- over their performance in 2015, when they shot 1,038 and finished 53 shots out of ninth place.