Minium: Mallory Hetzel Has Built Old Dominion Into an Unlikely Women's Golf Power
By ODU Athletics
By Harry Minium
Old Dominion is an outstanding University with great academic programs. ODU is a national leader in resiliency, or the science of helping communities cope with sea level rise.
It has one of the best STEM-H programs in the state. More than half of ODU’s students are enrolled in science, technology, engineering, math or health professions programs. Only Virginia Tech graduates more STEM-H students in Virginia than ODU.
It is also a national leader in entrepreneurial studies, has a growing cybersecurity program and ODU’s Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship has helped the students and the private sector launch dozens of new businesses.
But one thing the school isn’t is a so-called country club school. You wouldn’t expect to find one of the nation’s best women’s golf programs at ODU, a metropolitan university with one of the most diverse student bodies in the country.
But that’s exactly what golf coach Mallory Hetzel has built at ODU in her three seasons here.
When she came here from Western Carolina in 2016, she led ODU to its best season ever. The Monarch won their first Conference USA tournament and the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament in 2017.
In both 2018 and 2019, the Monarchs won at-large bids to the women’s golf Big Dance.
The former Georgia star is smart and driven and has recruited players to fit her personality, as well as those who would be comfortable at a metropolitan university.
“ODU isn’t for everybody, but we try to identify that in recruiting,” she said. “The people we get here, they’re going to love it and make the most of it.
“On paper, ODU women’s golf has no business playing in three consecutive NCAA tournaments. But I recruit the kinds of players who love golf, who are passionate about competing and understand that this is a unique opportunity.”
As with the ODU women’s tennis team, which made its second appearance in the NCAA tournament last week, Hetzel has loaded her roster with foreign players. That’s also the staple of most women’s golf teams nationwide.
Hetzel has players from France, the United Arab Emirates, Belgium, Japan and the Czech Republic. Aibgail Portyrata, from Richmond, is the only American on the team.
Charlotte De Corte, from Loderzeel, Belgium, which is just south of Brussels, was a first-team all-conference choice. Jana Melichova, who was raised just south of Prague, was the league’s Freshman of the Year.
De Corte says she wouldn’t have come to ODU had it not been for the diverse backgrounds of her teammates here.
“I liked that about Old Dominion, that we’re all from different places,” she said. “I wanted to be around people who understand what it’s like to miss home.”
Mallory Hetzel has coached ODU to three NCAA tournament bids in her three seasons here
She was courted by several American schools, and didn’t pay much attention to an email from ODU until urged to do so by her father, Bart. “My dad loves doing research, and when he looked into it, he told me Old Dominion is really a good school.
“When I came to visit, the team was amazing. I love the school. I have my dad to thank for that.”
She said ODU’s facilities were the clincher. ODU practices at the Lamberts Point Golf Course, a 9-hole course that city of Norfolk owns on the southwest side of campus. ODU has chipping and putting greens and a driving range at Lamberts Point.
“Not many schools have what ODU has here,” she said.
Melichova is like many freshman international students – she has struggled a bit with English. De Corte said she did, too, until she began thinking in English.
“I forced myself to do that,” said De Corte, who speaks with only a hint of an Dutch accent, the language she and her family speaks at home. French and to a lesser extent German are spoken in Belgium.
Melichova says in spite of her early struggles with English, she loves the American educational system.
“At home our schools are based on learning a lot of information and then taking tests,” she said. “Here, it’s more about discussions in class, doing projects and writing essays.
“It’s really good to put your ideas on paper. It helps me learn.”
Sana Tufail, a senior from the United Arab Emirates, was third-team Conference USA this spring.
Melichova was an instant star at ODU. She was a first-team All-Conference USA choice and the C-USA Freshman of the Year, and had a sterling 72.6 average score.
Hetzel says the diversity is a strength for her team.
“There is such a mix of cultures,” she said. “Yes, they’re very different, but that’s what they all have in common.”
They all play a pretty mean golf game as well. ODU has been placed in the West Regional hosted by the University of Washington at the Tumble Creek golf resort in Cle Elum, Washington. They teed off Monday morning and will compete over the next three days.
Hetzel said the Monarchs aren’t in Washington just to enjoy the scenery.
There are 18 teams in each regional, and the top six in each region will advance to the NCAA finals in Arkansas. ODU is ranked 40th nationally, but Hetzel says ODU can be among the 24 teams that play in the finals.
“I wouldn’t be surprised a bit if we make it,” she said. “I tell them that all the time. When we’re relaxed and are in control of our focus, we can really play well.
“Our top five when they’re playing their best are as good as anyone in the country. They have tournament experience all over the world.
Abigail Portyrata, a senior from Richmond, is the only American on the ODU women's golf team.
“They’re all capable of shooting in their 60s, and not every team can say that. We truly don’t have a No. 1 player. Every day, any of them can be No. 1.”
With three NCAA bids in three years, Hetzel might hear from some Power 5 programs looking for a coach. She says leaving is the farthest thing from her mind.
“I love golf and love to compete and what I love here is that we have so much of an opportunity to win,” she said.
“It seems like every day we’re doing something historic. I want to be someplace that we can win, write history and advance.
“I love the facilities here. I love what we’re building. I’m very proud of that and I don’t’ see any need to think of anything else than Old Dominion.
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