Photo courtesy of MT Athletics
Women’s sports are often overlooked and undervalued. Even the two words, “women’s sports,” are often twisted to fit a narrative that sports played by men are better than women’s. There are lots of different ways to get involved in sports, and it’s important that women are encouraged to do so rather than discouraged. Middle Tennessee State’s Hanley Long has something to say about that. She lets her golf swing do the talking.
Long, a senior at MTSU, is a women’s golfer for the Blue Raiders and is one of the top players, not only in the state of Tennessee, but in the nation. Long has built her reputation from the ground up. A local girl from Rossview High School in Clarksville, Tennessee, was turned away by major Division I schools from Power 5 conferences.
However, that did not stop her from pursuing collegiate athletics and finding her home at MTSU.
“At the time, MTSU was ranked top 50 in the nation (for golf),” Long said. “I knew I was coming into a competitive program.”
Long tried the other stereotypical sports for women such as softball and basketball but found her own distinct lane in golf. Long’s family members are avid golfers. Her father had she and her brother on the golf course at five years old, believing it was one of many good options when it came to teaching them the game. She states that her father often took her and her brother to the golf course so they could practice playing. She comments that she would get the best golf gifts for her birthday and for Christmas so she could keep practicing. This was where her love of the game came from.
Long has learned and progressed as a golfer tremendously since her first tee off as a freshman.
Now in her senior season, Long has caught fire on the course. In her first five tournaments of the fall season, Long has four top-10 finishes, with three of those coming in the top five.
With all the recognition that Long is receiving, one would think that coming out of high school, she’d have an array of options to choose from. Long was a state champion in her final year at Rossview, and she helped cap off a perfect season with a 48-0 record. However, with all of her accolades, Power 5 schools still rejected Long.
“It gives me a lot of motivation,” Long said. “Growing up, I was a huge (Tennessee Volunteers) fan. I emailed the head coach at UT and got a reply four months later from their assistant coach, saying, ‘Sorry, we’re not interested.'”
Long viewed the Volunteers and other Power 5 schools’ loss as the Blue Raiders gain. Long attributes her commitment to MTSU as one of her biggest motivators.
“When I tee up, I’m literally playing for that logo that I love and the school that I love,” Long said. “I think everybody else at these huge schools are so caught up in the name, the logo or the conference.”
Long is confident in herself and her teammates, as she should be. The Blue Raiders traveled to Knoxville to compete in the Intercollegiate Mercedes-Benz Championship earlier in the fall season, where Long led the field at the top of individual leaderboards. Not only did she have a spectacular performance, but the entire Blue Raider squad.
“Having myself, Catherine and Caroline (Caudill) all playing well (at UT), it’s kind of like a slap in the face,” Long said. “Because, you know the athletic director at Tennessee has to be like, ‘You have Tennessee girls at MTSU that are playing and beating you collectively. What is going on?'”
Long is aware of the labels that are placed upon lesser-known universities such as MTSU. She isn’t too concerned, however, because it takes the pressure off of her and her teammates. It allows her to play freely and confidently regardless of the outcome on the course.
“(With) how people view the MT logo, I don’t have the pressure of being at a huge conference school, and we’re known as a mid-major,” Long said. “… I want to show these huge conference schools that just because you’re part of a bigger conference doesn’t mean anything. I feel like we’ve had a lot of success in recent years where college coaches from bigger conferences respect us.”
Long’s season averages have improved by her scores dropping, because in golf, the lower the score, the better. Not only has Long been succeeding on the course, but in the classroom as well. She has maintained her 4.0 GPA throughout her time at MTSU and was named a WGCA All-American Scholar and C-USA Academic Medal Winner for the third consecutive season in the spring of 2018.
Long’s elevated performance in the latest spring season was recognized, as she was named C-USA’s most improved golfer in the conference and earned All C-USA First Team honors.
“I think I set a very good example because I strive to excel not only in the classroom but on the golf course as well,” Long said.
Long is setting the example not only for the Blue Raiders but for all women in sports.
Women sports have made significant strides since Title IX was enacted into law, but there is still substantial room for improvement and gender equality in sports.
Like Long, her brother also competed in the NCAA. She attributes her and her brother playing sports at the collegiate level as a testament to her parents, Joey and Lisa, and an ever-changing society that fights for gender equality.
“I think it stems from your parents wanting the same opportunities whether they have a son or daughter,” Long said. “My parents wanted equal opportunities for my brother and I. We both played the exact same sports.”
Despite society changing, Long is aware there is much room for improvement. She believes that progress will come, not only from her generation but future generations as well.
“It’s just a matter of the younger generation seeing women succeeding in sport and breaking those gender barriers in order for it to follow in the decades to come,” Long said.
However, she still knows that change must rest on the individuals themselves.
“A person has to be willing to open their perspective and outlook and embrace differences within sports,” Long said.
Long hopes that the younger generation of women in sports earns the respect they deserve. She doesn’t want any girls thinking about going into sports to be turned away by the stereotypes that women’s sports have faced for decades.
She hopes that other young women exhibit the same determination and resiliency that she had when she was pursuing college athletics.
“If you know that’s exactly what you want to do, then keep working at it,” Long said. “There will definitely be people telling you that you aren’t good enough. I probably had more emails saying, ‘Until you play in the American Junior Golf Association, don’t email me back.'”
For Long, there are three keys to success for women in sports. She knows them all too well because she defied those “larger” universities and succeeded at MTSU.
“Hard work, work ethic and your attitude are the three things people can’t control,” Long said. “No one can ever take those away from you.”
Long hopes to continue her success thus far in her senior season. The fall season is all wrapped up, but Blue Raiders will return in the spring. Long will cap off her illustrious career at MTSU.
To contact Sports Editor David Chamberlain, email firstname.lastname@example.org.