When their string of three-consecutive appearances in the NCAA Women’s Regional Golf Championship started in 2012, the challenge coach Mike Akers saw for his Texas State Bobcats was pretty obvious. Inexperience.
That’s not so much of a problem this time, since Texas State will travel to the NCAA East Regional next week with a team that includes three players who have experience at this level going back to the team in 2012. There are other concerns, however, before the first tee shot flies on Thursday.
“It’s finals week,” Akers said. “Our players will be in a hotel conference room in Tallahassee, Fla., taking their exams on Tuesday morning, and we won’t get out to the golf course until later that day.”
Perhaps getting that bit of pressure out of the way will ease the Bobcats into play. The NCAA East Regional is a 54-hole event at SouthWood Golf Club, designed by Gene Bates and Fred Couples, and Texas State is seeded 19th of 24 teams (Duke is first, and 14th-seeded Baylor is the only other Texas school at this regional). The top eight advance to the national championship tournament later in May at Tulsa.
In the West region, UTSA’s Fabiola Arriaga will compete as an individual. And from the Texas State Men’s team, Stuart Smallwood will compete as an individual at a NCAA Regional at Briggs Ranch in San Antonio.
Last year, the Bobcats were thought of as an outside pick to get into the top eight. Some of the reasoning for the pick might have been because of reputation; Texas State finished 14th in the regional the previous year and was 22 shots out of a national qualifying spot.
But things never got rolling for the entire team last year, and the Bobcats came home from regional 37 shots out of the qualifying spot, 21st place overall.
“So nobody is picking us to move on this year,” Akers said. “But now I think we’re peaking at the right time. I’ve never had this type of depth on a team here, and there’s no pressure.”
The Bobcats, ranked 46th nationally this year, finished second to Troy in the Sun Belt Conference Championship last month. Mara Puisite shot a final-round of 2-under 70 to get into a playoff for the individual honors.
Puisite is from Latvia, where the World Golf Foundation notes the first golf course opened in 1998 and there are 120 adult female golfers and 70 players in the junior ranks (compared to 26 million golfers in the U.S).
Puisite has three of her last six rounds at even par or better. She’s joined on the definite Texas State roster along with three other international students: Lejan Lewthwaite and Lora Assad (South Africa) and Iman Nordin (Malaysia), who leads the team with two sub-70 rounds including a school-record 66.
Nordin was on the Texas State team two years ago that surprised with the 14th-place finish in regionals. It came despite a 320 team total in the first round, which the Bobcats improved each round including a 300 on the final day. A 300-pace would have qualified Texas State for the national championship by 13 shots.
“The first day we dug ourselves a grave,” Nordin said. “I think it came because of the pressure we put on ourselves. I think we’ve learned from that.”
The final spot on the active roster, plus one alternate’s spot, will go to a freshman, but Akers is not worried about that. He expects to make his final decision before the weekend, then travel to Tallahassee on Monday night.
“We have three really good freshmen,” Akers said. “It’s the worst part of my job to tell one of them they won’t go with us. It’s a problem, a good problem, that I’ve had all year. It’ll just depend on who is playing well at this given time.”
Millie Saroha, from New Delhi, India, was the only freshman to play for the Bobcats at the Sun Belt, and she cracked the top 25. Maty Monzingo (Trophy Club, Texas) completed the fall season with an under-par round and opened the spring-season tournament schedule with two sub-par rounds, and Ali Cowan (Victoria) was the team’s only freshman with a top-10 finish at an event this season.
Whoever it turns out to be, they’ll have to lug their books for one last study session. Akers was informed by Texas State’s softball team that a university academic adviser could travel with the team and proctor the final exams at the team hotel.
“I didn’t even know it was an option,” Akers said.
It was a surprise. And a top-eight finish at the NCAA Regionals would be a nice surprise as well.