After an extended off-season, Texas looks to get back into tournament form when they travel to Sorrento, Florida for the UCF Challenge this weekend.
In the final tournament of the fall, the Longhorns, ranked 10th nationally by GolfWeek, cruised to a 12-stroke victory in the annual Betsy Rawls Invitational, led by senior Nicole Vandermade and junior Madison Pressel. The Texas pair finished first and second individually, giving Vandermade her first career collegiate victory.
“It feels amazing,” Vandermade said. “I’ve been working really hard. I knew my game was there. We are getting more and more confident with each tournament.”
Heading into the spring, the defending Big 12 Champs are looking to keep the momentum going and improve on last year, when they fell just short of qualifying for the NCAA Championships. With four starters returning from 2010-11, an older squad should keep the Longhorns on the right track.
“It’s always a good thing to have more experience,” said head coach Martha Richards. “They’re just that more comfortable because they’ve been there and they know what to expect.”
In the 2011 UCF Challenge, the Longhorns finished fifth behind eventual NCAA finalist Coastal Carolina. However, following a three month absence from competitive play, Richards likes what she sees out of her team.
“We’ve come back just as ready as I’ve seen them to play going into the spring and I think that has to do with just having a more experienced team,” Richards said. “We’ve practiced hard. I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen at practice.”
The Sorrento weather forecast looks clear, but should heat up into more ideal conditions for the final round Tuesday. Playing in Austin year-round, the Longhorns have learned how to play in fickle weather and should be prepared for the sporadic and chilly conditions Sunday.
“You have to remind them of the weather conditions so they don’t get frustrated and they just focus on the task at hand,” Richards said. “I think the biggest challenge is getting back into your tournament toughness and your focus in competitive rounds, and that’s what we’ve tried to work on.”
After missing the NCAA Championships in 2011 for the first time since Richards’ arrival in 2007, Texas is primed to get back to the May championships, but before that, they must have a strong showing in 2012’s first contest.
Printed on Friday, February 10, 2012 as: Team aims to start spring with victory in Florida