By Sam Draut–
After six top-five finishes including victories in the Cardinal Cup and Battle of the Bluegrass State, the women’s golf team was selected for its third consecutive NCAA Regional appearance. Louisville is one of 18 programs competing in the three-day, 54-hole tournament hosted by Texas A&M. Tenth-seeded Louisville will begin play on May 5 and compete against six top-25 programs.
With five freshmen on the roster, consistent play of seniors Laura Restrepo and Katie Mitchell helped the team to reach the program’s ninth NCAA appearance. Restrepo has a team best 73.10 stroke average and five top-10 finishes while Mitchell follows with a 73.90 stroke average and four top-10 finishes.
After finishing seventh in the ACC Championship, head coach Courtney Trimble gave the team some time off to finish up classwork and finals before beginning to prepare for the upcoming tournament. Trimble said the team worked on its “short game and fine tuning things” on the days leading up to the trip south.
“We have put an emphasis on our short game,” Trimble said. “Also, on our long irons and hybrids.”
With a long but successful fall and spring season behind them, Mitchell said the team has practiced smarter, putting an emphasis on quality instead of quantity.
“A lot of times at this point in the year, teams go really hard because they’re trying to overprepare,” Mitchell said. “We’re trying to prevent that.”
The Jack Nicklaus-designed course will be the longest course Louisville has played this year. Trimble expects the course to be wet and has worked to prepare the team for the par-72, 6,373-yard course’s specific characteristics.
Mitchell said the roster comprised of five freshmen, one sophomore and junior and two seniors have looked at images of the course to get a feel for what they will play. She also noted the amount of bunkers and expects the wind to be an element as well.
In the practices leading up to the tournament, Louisville has played longer tees to simulate the lengthy course. Trimble isn’t overly concerned about her golfers playing the longer course differently than they usually would, but she has talked to players about “keeping in mind” expectations of how well the ball will be hit.
“Coach has really emphasized not playing outside of your talent,” Mitchell said. “A person shouldn’t try to hit further based on the course, they need to work on what they are better at.”
Once the Cardinals arrive in Texas, the team will spend a day before the practice round primarily chipping and putting.
After struggling in the first round of the ACC Championship, Louisville tied for the fourth-best final round score and Mitchell carded the school’s third-best score by an individual at a conference championship in program history with a three-under-par. Louisville finished ahead of 19th-ranked Florida State and 37th-ranked Notre Dame in the conference tournament, but the sluggish start prevented Louisville from finishing any higher than seventh.
To be one of the six teams that advance from the Bryan Regional to the NCAA Championship in Eugene, Oregon, Louisville must get off to a good start against the competitive field.
“Certainly can’t win the tournament on the first day, but you can lose it, so you want to get off to a good start,” Trimble said. “We will be in the mindset that we want to go out on the first day and put ourselves in the position to win the tournament.”
With a good start in mind, Trimble doesn’t want her players to “go for broke” on the first day. She will rely on the vocal leadership of her two seniors, both who have NCAA tournament experience.
“They will do a great job once we get down there,” Trimble said. “We try to treat this like any other tournament. Obviously everyone knows what the stakes are. If you don’t play well you go home. We try to keep everything as normal as possible so they aren’t putting more pressure on themselves. I think Laura (Restrepo) and Katie (Mitchell) carry themselves that way and that’s important.”
While Restrepo and Mitchell have been stalwarts in Louisville’s five-member team sent out during tournaments, Trimble has rotated the other three spots to give the younger golfers experience. Junior Louise Oxner has played in the past four tournaments and sophomore Molly Skapik competed in the previous two. Freshman Ellen Kehoe finished 37th in the ACC Championships and ranks third on the team with a 75.53 stroke average.
Mitchell told the younger players “anything can happen.”
“Even if we’re down 15 or 20 shots, we can make that up in one round. My freshman year we made a tournament and came back on the final day,” Mitchell said. “We overcame a 15-shot deficit and won. Keeping our hearts in it and never giving up and it’s never over until it’s over.”
Photo by Sam Draut / The Louisville Cardinal