Two days before they were to leave for the NCAA East Regional at Penn State’s Blue Course, members of Chattanooga’s women’s golf team were hard at work at their practice facility on Hickory Valley Road, preparing for what they were about to face.
Nary a mention of their upcoming opponents was made as the Mocs blasted their way out of bunkers, chipped, putted and tried to hit intentional slices around trees in preparation for the May 10-12 tournament.
“We’re picking the toughest shots that you’re hopefully not going to have on the golf course,” said sophomore Jordan Britt, recently voted as the SoCon golfer of the month after winning the league’s individual title in April. “But if we do have them, we’ll know how to play them. We’re just trying to prepare in the best way possible.”
This intense short game work is in keeping with coach Colette Murray’s wishes. She realizes the Mocs’ true opponent isn’t Alabama or Arizona, the top two seeded teams in the East. The real opponent is the golf course.
“The field is stacked,” said Murray, who has led her team to the NCAAs the last four years, impressive given that the program was revived just five years ago. “We’re seeded 22nd, and that’s the highest seed we’ve ever had. We’d definitely be a Cinderalla story if we advanced to nationals.
“But I don’t want to worry about the other teams that are there. That’s really just a waste of time and effort. I want to concentrate on us. If we go out there and we beat the golf course, we’ll qualify. We can’t rely on any one player. Everyone has to do their bit.”
No one knows that any better than the Mocs’ lone senior, Maria Juliana Loza. She’s never missed the NCAA tournament, but she realizes this is a different team than the last three. The last three had Emma de Groot and Christine Wolf, two stalwarts that were the building blocks of Murray’s masterful program revitalization. Without a player — de Groot — that Murray could count on finishing in the top 10 every tournament, and without the quiet efficiency of Wolf, the Mocs will try to advance to the finals by utilizing their depth.
“This is a young team,” Loza said. “But this is still a pretty solid team. It’s different in that the people that came in have different abilities than the people that left. But we can all still play.
“… I know we have the game to do it. All it’s going to take is for all five of us to be there and be able to perform.”
The Mocs gained a healthy jolt of confidence in their last tournament, the SoCon Championships. After shooting 317 in the first round, a score that left them 11 shots off the lead and tied for sixth place in the 10-team field, they rallied with subsequent rounds of 303 and 301 and won the tournament by three shots.
Their depth — Murray thinks this may be her most talented team from one through five — was evident. Britt won the tournament, Loza finished third, and Marion Duvernay and Mette Kryger tied for 14th.
That three-stroke margin of victory could be attributed to the extra time this team, particularly Britt, has put in on the short game. Britt missed the last three greens in regulation in the SoCon tournament but saved par each time.
“I was proud of myself for that, especially on 18 because I was shaking like a leaf,” Britt said. “But (the short game work) definitely pays off. You’re not going to be able to hit every green, so you’ve got to be able to get up and down.”
Murray was disappointed last year’s team couldn’t earn a spot in the finals. Her goal, unrealistic thought it may seem to some, is to win a national championship. This won’t be the team to get that done, but she’d like to keep building toward it.
That’s why, when asked about the accomplishment of advancing to the NCAA regionals for the fourth straight year, Murray wasn’t all that enthused.
“It’s a given,” Murray said. “Not to sound cocky or anything like that, but I’m definitely not doing my job right if (just getting to the NCAAs) is our goal. I want to be playing for national championships very year. I don’t know if that’s realistic or not. We’ve only been [to the finals] once in five years. But as a coach, I aspire to having a national championship team.”