Repeating as Conference USA champion has the women’s golf team headed back to NCAA Regionals for the second consecutive season and third time in program history.
Last season’s trip to regionals ended in disappointment as rainy weather in Baton Rouge, La., meant all three rounds were canceled and the six highest-ranked teams in the field automatically advanced to the NCAA Championship. North Texas was the No. 10 squad at the tournament and said it used the experience as motivation to qualify again this season.
“We get to go to a new location and hopefully get the chance to play and do what we couldn’t do last year,” senior golfer Audrey Tan said. “That has been our motivator for the entire year leading up to this. Finally being able to go to regionals and the chance to play – it’s just amazing.”
Qualifying for regionals was the culmination of a season where North Texas adapted to losing now-volunteer assistant coach Lauren Cox from its squad, the team’s all-time leader in single season scoring average at 72.26 strokes per round. It finished No. 11 and No. 12 at the season’s first two tournaments before finishing top five at four of the final six regular season events.
Coming into the C-USA tournament ranked No. 44 in the nation, the Mean Green were already all but assured a regional berth which is usually guaranteed to the top 50 teams in the nation. The tournament favorites finished round one at No. 6 collectively, nine strokes off the lead, and rallied to move up four spots by the end of round two. A late final round push saw North Texas edge out No. 49 University of Texas-San Antonio by a single stroke to defend the conference title.
“It was very emotional,” Tan said. “We finished the round thinking we were one shot back and we had lost by one. It was a pretty upsetting moment only to realize a couple minutes later – when the scores were official – that we had won. [It was] a very emotional win and it means a lot regardless of whether it would have given us the regional bid.”
Tan leads the team in scoring average at 72.11 strokes per round. She is on pace to break Cox’s program record for scoring average heading into the regional tournament. Sophomore Ellie Roth — who transferred in from the University of Kansas prior to this season — holds the Mean Green’s second-best scoring average this season at 74.58.
Having won an individual title at the Tulane Classic on Feb. 13-15, senior Patricia Sinolungan is the third golfer who has competed in all nine tournaments this season along with Cox and Tan. Roth took No. 4 at the same tournament for the best finish of her career while Tan has finished No. 12 or better at six of the nine events.
Injuries to senior Katie Finley and junior Emilie Ricaud have opened up opportunities for junior Marija Jucmane and sophomore Shreya Pal who have each had some standout moments toward the season’s end.
“Shreya and Marija have stepped up and done some really cool things,” head coach Michael Akers said. “Marija’s 67 at the last round of The Bruzzy then Shreya had back-to-back one-under rounds going into the final round at conference. It shows our depth.”
All of this has led to North Texas’ second chance at competing to advance from regionals to the NCAA Championship tournament. It qualified for the Albuquerque, N.M., regional. It will be the eighth-highest ranked team in the field including national No. 2 University of Oregon, No. 11 University of Florida, No. 13 University of Texas-Austin and No. 23 University of Arizona. The top four finishers will advance to the six-day national championship tournament.
“As a group, we’re all just really excited to play and show the world what we’re made of,” Roth said. “Now that we get that opportunity, we’re ready to go – ready to start preparing and ready to go ahead and put our game to the test. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Image source: Mean Green Sports