Wednesday May 8, 2013UF Women Ready to Tee Off at NCAA Central Regional
After completing its practice round at the Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club today in Norman, Okla., the fifth-ranked University of Florida women’s golf team will be ready to compete at the NCAA Central Regional. The three round tournament is slated to begin tomorrow and run through Saturday. The top eight teams with the lowest overall scores after three rounds will advance to the NCAA Championship in Athens, Ga.
The Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club (Par 72, 6,298 yards) is the site of this year’s regional and will feature a 25-team field with eight of the teams currently ranked in the top-25 of the WGCA/Coaches’ Poll. No. 3 Duke headlines the event as the top-seed, followed by host-school, Oklahoma, who is currently ranked No. 4. After Florida, Washington and Arizona State are No. 10 and No. 12, respectively. Texas Tech makes the field as No. 18 and UC Davis (20) and Iowa State (25) round out the teams from the top-25. Along with Florida, Mississippi State is the only other team from the SEC in the central regional field.
“The course will be new to us, but that’s something that might happen to you at regionals,” Florida head coach Emily Bastel said. “We just go in and learn a lot with our practice round and go from there. It’s going to be a tough field. We prepare for that with our schedule all year long. We hope that every week when we play in a tournament, we’re up against stacked fields, so when we get to regionals, it’s something we’re accustomed to by the time postseason rolls around.”
This year the Gators will compete as the three-seed in the field of 25 teams and look to advance to the NCAA Championship for the 24th time in school history. If the team advances, it will be the first back-to-back-to-back appearance since the 1996-98 seasons. Out of the 21 years that the current regional format has been in place for NCAA women’s golf starting in 1993, UF has received a regional bid in 20 of those 21 years only missing out on 1999. Last season, the Orange and Blue competed in the East Regional in State College, Pa., and was able to advance to the NCAA Championship after tying for fourth, its best regional finish since 2008. Individually, then-senior Evan Jensen was the top Gator finisher as she placed in a tie for seventh after rounds of 72, 74 and 71 to sit at two-over (217).
Florida is coming off a disappointing performance at the SEC Championship a few weeks ago where the team finished in 13th, its lowest finish in a tournament this year. Looking to rebound in a big way this weekend, Florida has been itching to get back on the course and prove why it has been a top-five team all year long.
“We’re ready to go,” Bastel said. “We’ve had a great couple weeks of practice and this is an exciting time of year for us. We’re anxious to get going. Obviously, we didn’t play the way we wanted to at SECs, so any time that happens to you, you have a lot to work on and a lot to learn from. That’s been out biggest goal in the past couple of weeks to just analyze the things we didn’t do very well and make sure we improve on those and get into a good frame of mind going into regionals.”
This week, UF will have a nice mix in its lineup of veterans and newcomers as sophomore Camilla Hedberg (Sitges, Spain) will lead the charge at the No. 1 spot. Hedberg has been Florida’s solid player all year long finishing out of the top-25 only once. Before the Bryan National Collegiate, Hedberg had yet to finish outside of the top-15 with only one sub-top-10 placement. With three wins to her credit in this season alone, making her only one of only 11 other Gators in school history to win at least three tournaments in their careers and one of five to win three tournaments in one season, Hedberg takes a solid 72.5 stroke average into tomorrow’s first round looking for a possible fourth victory this season.
Senior Mia Piccio (Bacolod City, Philippines) will provide the other half of the veteran leadership this weekend as she will be competing in her final NCAA regional as a Gator golfer. Throughout her career, Piccio has fared well in NCAA regionals, finishing as high as 11th in 2011, her sophomore season. Last year, she was the second-highest Gator finisher behind Jensen after placing in a tie for 14th with a combined total of 306 (+4). This year, Piccio was on pace to have arguably her best collegiate season after four-straight top-15 finishes to open the year, her highest, a tie for sixth at the Cougar Classic to kick off the fall. It was an up-and-down spring season for Piccio as she finished in the top-25 in three of the six spring tournaments. Piccio has accumulated the third-best stroke average (74.1) on the team and is currently ranked 53rd in the nation by GolfWeek.
“I think it helps a lot having them there with the experience they have,” Bastel said. “They can kind of mentor them and tell them what it’s all about. They can help manage expectations and lead by example. I think we have some good veterans that will help do that this week.”
Behind Hedberg and Piccio will be junior Elcin Ulu (Istanbul, Turkey), who has had quite the spring season in solidifying herself as the No. 3 player for the Gators. Ulu currently sits with an even 76.0 stroke average, the fourth-best on the team. This spring, Ulu has had two top-10 finishes (T3 at Florida Challenge and T6 at Gator Invite) and recorded a career-best tournament score at the SunTrust Gator Invite. In that tournament, Ulu shot a five-over (215) and was the top Gator finisher, her first top-team finish this season.
Rounding out the lineup with be freshman Ursa Orehek (Domzale, Slovenia) and sophomore Anna Young (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada). Orehek has found her swing in the last two tournaments, carding a team-best five-over (221) at the Bryan National Collegiate for her first top-20 finish of her collegiate career. Orehek also shot her career-low in that same tournament (71) and takes a 77.1 stroke average into this weekend. For Young, she will be making her first start since the Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate in late February. Young did compete in the Gator Invitational in March, but only as an individual. There, Young finished tied for 58th with rounds of 76-78-77 for a score of 21-over (231). Young did play extensively in the fall season, making three starts and also played in the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge in early February, collecting her highest finish of the (T25) and lowest tournament total as well (225, +12).
The first tee times for Thursday’s first round are scheduled for 8:30 a.m. with the first Gator schedule to go off the first hole at 9:26 a.m. 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.