Women’s preview: Conference USA

Editor’s note: College golf is dormant in January, so let Golfweek’s annual conference preview series serve as a bridge to the spring season. Here you’ll find fall highlights and spring details for each conference with an automatic qualifying spot in the postseason. The series (read all stories here) runs from Jan. 12 to Feb. 11.

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Conference USA women

Conference championship: April 20-22, Verandah Club, Fort Meyers, Fla.

Defending champion: Tulane

Conference members (Golfweek ranking in parentheses): Middle Tennessee State (55), Florida International (64), Texas-San Antonio (106), Old Dominion (109), Texas-El Paso (151), North Texas (167), Western Kentucky (172), Alabama-Birmingham (181), Southern Mississippi (185), Marshall (189) and Florida Atlantic (232)

Conference favorite: Middle Tennessee State proved in the fall that it can win, taking the title at the Memphis Women’s Intercollegiate and Blue Raider Invitational. Led by upperclassmen Avery George, Allie Knight and Emily Miller, the Blue Raiders have the leadership at the top to take the conference title with Tulane – now a member of the American Athletic Conference – unable to defend.

Could challenge: Florida International is a close second after finishing in the top 5 in each of its four fall starts. The Panthers are led by two returning all-conference players in junior Meghan McLaren – who could be conference’s best player – and sophomore Camila Serrano.

Sleeper: The 2014 Conference USA runner up, Texas-San Antonio, graduated its top player from a year ago, Fabiola Arriaga, and also lost two other seniors. But the young Roadrunners will be battle-tested come championship time. They played the 52nd-hardest fall schedule in the country, leaving little chance to reach the impressive amount of top-5s Florida International and Middle Tennessee State were able to compile in the fall. Old Dominion proved it can certainly make a run for the Conference USA title with a third-place finish at the Golfweek Program Challenge.

Midseason All-Conference team: Meghan McLaren, Florida International (junior); Avery George, Middle Tennessee State (junior); Allie Knight, Middle Tennessee State (senior), Emily Miller, Middle Tennessee State (junior); and Devon Spriddle, Southern Mississippi (sophomore).

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