Thursday April 18, 2013Gators Seek Out Ninth SEC Title at Conference Championship This Week
The postseason has arrived for the sixth-ranked University of Florida women’s golf team. With a two-week period between their last competition and now behind them, the Gators will begin competition at the SEC Championship tomorrow in Birmingham, Ala. in hopes of claiming its ninth conference title in school history. The last time Florida won the SEC championship was in 2008. Last year, Florida finished in fourth place with then-freshman Camilla Hedberg finishing tied for sixth as the Gators top finisher. Play this weekend will consist of three rounds starting on Friday and run through Sunday.
The SEC Championship will be played at the Greystone Golf and Country Club (Par 72, 6,401 yards) and the field will consist of all 14 member schools. Six schools, including Florida, are currently ranked in the WGCA/Coaches’ Poll. Alabama holds the highest ranking at No. 2, followed by Florida (No. 6) and Arkansas (No. 7). Vanderbilt is the fourth SEC team in the top-10 at No. 10, and Georgia (No. 19) and Texas A&M (No. 22) round out the top-25.
“We have high expectations,” Florida head coach Emily Bastel said. “Our conference in women’s golf is deep, just like every other sport. We’ve gone back and forth with a lot of the top SEC schools this year. I think it’s going to be a really exciting championship. There are a lot of teams that can play well and we’re definitely one of them, we’ve proven that. I think our expectations are high. We want to go out and win and I know we’re capable of doing that. We talk a lot about the process of how we’re going to do that, which is actually not thinking about winning and breaking it into the really small things that we can control each day that we’re out there on the golf course. We’ve proven over the course of the year when we do those things, it all falls into place for us. When we make it simple for ourselves, we definitely have enough talent to win.”
Florida is coming off a fifth-place finish at the Bryan National Collegiate, its final regular season tournament of the year. Freshman Ursa Orehek (Domzale, Slovenia) was the top Gator finisher after she carded a final round, one-under (71), which was her first under-par round of the year and also tied her for 17th place, her highest finish of the year as well. With its fifth-place finish, it also continued Florida’s streak of nine-straight top-ten finishes. Every tournament Florida has played in this year has seen a top-ten finish with its lowest finish (T10) coming at the AllState Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate in late February.
“We’re excited to get going again,” Bastel said. “We didn’t play our best on the first day in Greensboro, but I was about as proud of them as I’ve been all year with how they played the last two days in that tournament. Ursa Orehek, who is a true freshman, had her best tournament of the year. Her average score is no indication of her talent level, but it was good to see her pull through and have a great finish in Greensboro and really make a difference coming down the stretch on the last day. She’ll be a big part of the SEC Championship for us.”
For the third-straight tournament, Bastel will take the same lineup that she has used since the SunTrust Gator Women’s Invitational. Sophomore Camilla Hedberg (Sitges, Spain) and senior Isabelle Lendl (Goshen, Conn.) will hold the top two spots in the lineup as they have done all year. Both players are coming off some extra competition as they both played in the LPGA’s Kraft Nabisco Championship, one of the major tournaments of the ladies’ tour. Hedberg shot two-straight rounds of even par golf at the famous Dinah Shore Championship Golf Course to make the cut and at one point was actually leading in the second round. Lendl, however was not able to make the cut, but used the experience to her advantage as she begins her final postseason as a Gator.
Hedberg and Lendl have played in every tournament for UF this year as they have accumulated 25 rounds and each won at least two medalist honors. Hedberg has the lowest average on the team at 71.9, but Lendl is right behind her at 72.4. Both have five top-ten finishes and three top-five finishes and are in the top-five of SEC players. Hedberg is ranked second in the conference based on her scoring average and Lendl is No. 4, both will be major factors for the Gators this week in Birmingham.
Behind them will be senior Mia Piccio (Bacolod City, Philippines), who has quietly built a strong senior campaign and been a solid No. 3 player for the Gators. Piccio’s average sits at 73.4 as she has tallied two top-ten finishes to go with five finishes in the top-25 this year. In the SEC, Piccio is currently ranked No. 13, giving Florida three players in the top-15 in the SEC. Alabama is the only other school with three players in the top-15 as well. Last tournament, Piccio had rounds of 77-75-73 to finish at nine-over (225) for a tie for 40th finish.
Rounding out the lineup with Orehek will be junior Elcin Ulu (Istanbul, Turkey), who has put together two solid tournaments in a row heading into this weekend. After finishing as the top Gator at the SunTrust Gator Women’s Invitational, Ulu shot eight-over (224) for the second-best score on the team at the Bryan National Collegiate. Ulu has played in all but two tournaments this year and has the fourth-best average on the team (75.2). Her tie for third at the Florida Challenge in January still holds as her best finish, but with her experience, she has become the go-to No. 4 player for the Gators heading into this weekend.
“Even though it looks like we have a lot of upperclassmen, we have two new girls, who have really come into their own this year,” Bastel said. “The fall is the learning curve for them as they have to get used to traveling, school, workouts and all the things they do, they’ve done a good job of adjusting. They can see their progression and that’s exciting for us.”
This weekend’s championship is set to begin tomorrow with the first tee times scheduled for 9 a.m. The first Florida tee times are set for 10:40 a.m. and run until 11:20 a.m. off the first hole. Live scoring will be available on GolfStat.com and a full recap with complete results will be posted on GatorZone.com following each day’s play.