They say the only thing harder than winning a championship is defending one. For the first time since 2004, the Texas women’s golf team will be faced with such a challenge.
The Longhorns won their first Big 12 title in seven years last April when they edged out Texas A&M at the conference championships in Columbia, Mo.
“We’re looking to go even bigger and harder this year,” said junior Haley Stephens of Greer, S.C. “We’re looking to continue to be strong, compete at a high level and win the Big 12 Championship like we did last year, but we also expect ourselves to be even better, to improve our results and have an even better finish at the regionals.”
Head coach Martha Richards also believes the team can be better than last year.
“We have very high goals,” she said. “We want to repeat as Big 12 Champions but we also want to make it past the regionals and into the NCAA championships and finish in the top 10. We lost one of our top golfers in Rebecca [Lee-Bentham] and that hurts, but we’re still very talented and I think we’re one of the favorites in the Big 12. I’m excited about our enthusiasm and energy.”
The program has every reason to believe they will improve on the results they putt a year ago. They are returning every golfer with the exception of Lee-Bentham, a freshman last year who left the team to pursue a professional career.
“Nobody sets the bar higher than we do,” Richards said. “We’re not concerned with expectations because those are placed on us by others. We’re focused on our own business and our own goals.”
Despite the added pressure of being the reigning champions, Stephens, who worked with her personal coach in Houston over the summer, feels the returning talent will push the team to the next level.
“It’s never a bad thing to have this much talent competing against each other on one team,” she said. “Competition makes us better, it fuels the fire and it will ultimately help us be dominant and continue to improve.”
The competition will be even greater with the team’s offseason addition of top recruit and incoming freshman Bertine Strauss. The South African is expected to fill in the void created by Lee-Bentham’s departure.
Her fellow teammates and coaching staff have been impressed by her work ethic and talent and are excited about the energy she brings to the team.
“She has been a blessing to have on our team,” Stephens said. “She has a great work ethic, but it’s not just how hard she works, it’s how productive she is when she works. She’s been able to teach me and the other older girls some new things already. She does a great job of staying balanced, she works hard but she has fun too.”
Richards has been equally impressed but knows there’s going to be a learning curve with Strauss, just as there is with any freshman.
“She’s very talented, has a great way about herself and I know she will make a contribution to the team,” Richards said. “But we have to remember that she’s halfway around the world and it’s going to take time for her to adjust. There’s going to be days where she shows her youth, but we’re just going to take it one step at a time and let her get comfortable.”
The team will get its first chance to prove itself this Sunday when they head to College Station for the Aggies’ “Mo”Morial Invitational. The team’s first tournament of the year will run until Tuesday.
Richards will expect Strauss to come in and perform but she’s also demanding an increased effort from the rest of her team.
“Bertine will step in right away,” she said. “We’re also going to need the rest of the team to step up. We’re going to need all the girls to compete at a high level and put up low numbers.”
Printed on September 9, 2011 as: High hopes for Longhorns after winning title last year