Back-to-back Mid-American Conference championships in their first two years of existence gave the Golden Flashes a massive burst of momentum heading into the hotly-anticipated 2000-01 campaign, which opened with an impressive triumph at the Unlimited Potential/Baytree Classic in Myrtle Beach on Sept. 10.
"It's really been amazing," said Kent State coach Mike Morrow. "We've had high expectations ever since we started the program, but I don't think anyone expected us to be this far along already. We believe we can compete with just about any team in the country.
"In fact, we've proven it."
The Flashes have passed established programs from the Big Ten and MAC by as if they were standing still thanks to the instantaneous success of first-year recruits Jan Dowling, Cheryl Tooshkenig, Leigh Ann Griffin, Heather Dobbin and Kim Kaye.
Now they're gunning for the nation's elite in 2000-01 with a squad that has every contributing member from those first two teams back along with a highly-touted recruit.
"We started this program with a gameplan that we're still following," said Morrow. "(Director of golf) Herb Page and (assistant coach) John Wiler put together a great recruiting class our first year. Now those players are juniors, and we've continued to bring in great players in the second and third years.
"Right now there are quite a few programs that would love to have our 10th player. That's quite a compliment."
While the roster features players that are nearly equal in talent, Dowling remains Kent State's uncontested ace. The Ontario native has captured medalist honors at the MAC Championships the past two seasons, and is coming off a superb summer.
"Jan's record speaks for itself," said Morrow. "She's the only player I exempted for our first qualifier, and she's earned it. The rest of our starting lineup was based on qualifier results, because they're all so close. The competition is tremendous, and that's what you want as a coach."
Sophomore Veronique Drouin has emerged as Kent State's No. 2 player after a strong rookie season, and prized freshman Martina Gillen of Ireland has also earned a spot in the lineup. Dobbin, Griffin and Tooshkenig will be regulars once again, while Kaye, Kent Roosevelt graduate Candace Beatty and fellow sophomore Jill MacDonald are competing for playing time along with freshman Amanda Holzen.
The Flashes narrowly missed earning their first trip to the NCAA East Regional last year. This season the MAC champion will receive an automatic berth, but Morrow would rather earn a bid the old fashioned way.
"We don't want to rely on winning the MAC," said Morrow. "We'd like our ranking in the region to put us in the NCAA tournament, and I don't think it would shock anyone if it did. We know we can play with any team in our region.
"If we play up to our abilities, everything will take care of