Taylor Dodson had a lot of options to consider when choosing a college. The South Aiken High School senior is coming off another season as the Thoroughbreds’ top golfer, which included a runner-up finish in the Class AAAA State Girls Golf Championship at the Country Club of Lexington.

Colleges that showed interest in Dodson included Clemson, Wake Forest, Coastal Carolina, Elon and Furman among others. But in the end, Dodson made the choice that was the best fit, selecting Gardner-Webb University.

“The school offered everything I wanted, from academics to athletics,” Dodson said Monday at the South Aiken High School library, as she signed her letter of intent while surrounded by friends and family. “It’s Division I, but it’s a small school.”

Dodson liked the small-school environment that Gardner-Webb offers because its enrollment is less than 5,000 students. That means smaller class sizes and more direct contact with professors and other university officials.

“Being an athlete, any help you can get with academics is good,” said Dodson, who made it clear the classroom was just as important in her decision as the golf course. “It’s a nice, small campus and is 3 hours from home. It’s also got new science labs.”

That last part is especially important to Dodson, who intends to major in Chemistry. And while she’ll seek out more one-on-ones with professors, it likely won’t be because of poor grades. Dodson’s an honor roll student at South Aiken and currently has a 4.72 GPA. Dodson’s success in the classroom is reflection of her hard work and dedication. It’s something that’s also clear to see on the golf course.

Dodson plays year round, in addition to competing for the T-Breds. She’s a regular on the Hurricane Junior Golf Tour, where she finished first place in two events this year. Dodson won the Forrest Hill Junior Open in Augusta and the Kikkor Golf Series at Bartram Trail in Evans, Ga.

“She works hard and takes (her game) seriously. Her dedication will allow her to compete very well,” said Kristen Holmes, Dodson’s coach at South Aiken. “She loves it so much and is so good at what she does, she can’t not succeed in college.”

One of the best assets of her game that should allow Dodson to compete with so many other good players from the get go is her length. Dodson is a fairly big hitter, and that should allow her to make an immediate impact. It will also help that Gardner-Webb only has three players returning for next year, giving Dodson a great opportunity to not only play, but to be one of the Runnin’ Bulldogs’ top scorers. It’s part of her goals during her time at Gardner-Webb.

“I’d like a good scoring average, to keep up my grades and eventually make All-American,” said Dodson, who added like most players, she wants to improve her short game. “I want to be one of the top one or two players of the team and I’d like to help take the team to an NCAA championship.”

Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.