Thursday through Saturday the Virginia women’s golf team will complete at the NCAA East Regional Championship in Gainesville, Fla. as the tournament’s No. 1 seed. The Cavaliers must finish in the top eight of the 21-team field to advance to the NCAA Championships later in the month. Second-year coach Kim Lewellen talks about the regional and her team as it prepares for the event.
Question: Is there any added pressure going to a regional as the top seed?
Lewellen: It is a compliment and it’s exciting. It shows how well we have done the entire year, which I think in turn will bring confidence to us. I think we know ultimately we are there to get a job done, and that is to finish in the top eight and go on to the NCAA Championships. Yes, we’re seated one, but our ultimate goal is to get back to the NCAAs and this is just a stepping stone to get there.
Question: A lot of coaches feel the NCAA Regional is the toughest, most pressure-packed three days of the year. Regardless of what your team has done to that point in your season, you have to be one of the eight best teams at a site to advance to the NCAA Championships. Do you feel the same?
Lewellen: I think the girls have played so many matches with so much good competition ... do I think this is more pressure packed? I think they’ll go in there prepared and ready for the competition. Last year, playing as good at the East Regional as we did, that will help us. I think the feelings are similar to last year. The experience we had there and the euphoria we had when we were done and had advanced to the NCAAs. Just all of that ... I think the girls are feeding off of some of those experiences from last year. Is there pressure? Yes, but these girls have played very well under pressure this year.
Question: When you look at the three NCAA Regional sites, do you see this as the toughest field?
Lewellen: I do. Then again, we have to beat these teams to win a national championship, so we want to be in the toughest field and we want to play against the best teams. We know if we beat those teams, we will do well at nationals.
Question: No player on this team has competed at the Florida course. Is that a disadvantage?
Lewellen: You have mixed emotions. Last year we played at Georgia during the regular season and had a difficult tournament because it was playing so difficult in March. It was still tough, but it played completely differently later in the year at the East Regional and we did much better there. A course can completely change in just a month, so even the teams that played in Gainesville earlier this year might find a different experience this time. We’ll go down there and do what we usually do. We’ll play a practice round. We’ll map out the greens and see how they roll. We’ll see where we need to hit it and treat it like any other golf course.
It is a tough course or I should say it is a placement course. You have to place your drives and place your second shots. The greens have sort of like a Donald Ross-like rolloff. You’ll need to have good strategy on where to hit it. There will probably be a little more strategy than at some courses where you just hit it. Brian (Bailie) and I will do a lot in advance to help the team be prepared before they play.
Question: The lineup is a little different than the group of players who competed at the ACC Championships. How do you feel about this mix?
Lewellen: I’m excited about this lineup. I’ve never had these five play at the same time as the team unit. It will be interesting to see how the dynamics will work. I think this is the type of course that Joy Kim can play really well. It is warm and the ball is going to roll a lot. She has played really well in postseason championships, so I’m excited to see her play.
Lene is coming off some injuries, but she always seems to come through for us and to produce a pretty good score. Kristen (Simpson), this is her last year and she’s playing outstanding. Last weekend she went out and beat (former Cavalier and current LPGA member) Leah Wigger by three shots, so she’s on fire right now. Whitney Neuhauser and Callie (Nielson) are just as consistent as you could ask for. The lineup is very good and everyone is playing well and has a good mindset.
Question: Is your goal to just get out of the regional, or more than that?
Lewellen: We all want to play well and win and all of the girls have individual goals for themselves. I think we want to do well and to perform well against the teams that are there because those are the teams we’ll have to do well against at NCAAs.
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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