Q&A with Kim Lewellen (May 3)
This week the Virginia women’s golf team will attempt to qualify for the NCAA Championships at the NCAA West Regional at Washington National Golf Club in Auburn, Wash. The second-seeded Cavaliers will need a top-eight finish to make their fourth consecutive trip to the NCAAs. UVa coach Kim Lewellen talks about this week’s tournament.
Question: As you get ready for Seattle, what are you thoughts on the team and what it might take to advance out of the West Regional?
Lewellen: I’m excited about the lineup and the team that we have going. We’ve performed very well with this lineup. At LSU-one of the toughest tournaments we have-we finished second with this lineup. I think we’ve got a good group of young ladies. They’re playing well right now. We’re looking forward to going to Washington. A lot of us have never been out that way, and we’re excited to see what’s out there. It looks to be quite damp and wet-a little bit cold-but we’ve practiced in that through the winter here, so I’m hoping that’s to our advantage.
I think that spring golf lends to rainy, windy weather, especially when we’re playing in March and April-anywhere you go. We are used to that, and we’ve performed well. We’ve played at Bryan National, and that weather was very windy and very cold. I think these girls are tough and can handle anything that’s given to them. To be honest with you, if the weather’s a little bit iffy, it may be to our advantage.
Question: One of your top players, Calle Nielson, had a disappointing finish at the ACC Championships. Do you expect her to bounce back from that performance this weekend? She was the NCAA West Regional medalist last year.
Lewellen: Very much so. During practice the past two weeks, she has looked great. She’s hitting the ball well, putting well. She’s worked very hard on her short game. She looks as good as I’ve ever seen her right now.
Question: Brittany Altomare has been a consistent player on the team this season. How important is it for the team that she performs well?
Lewellen: I think Brittany has set some goals for herself, and she’s been continually getting better each tournament throughout the spring. She does play well. A lot of times Brittany’s ‘bad’ is other people’s ‘good.’ Saying that, I think she’s putting the best I’ve seen her. I look for good things to happen for her, which will definitely help her postseason awards or her awards in general.
Question: Joy Kim has returned to the lineup. The past three seasons, she has been a difference maker for the team in the postseason, coming through to play some of her best golf at regionals. How important is it to have her experience in the lineup this weekend?
Lewellen: As we say all the time, Joy is a ‘gamer.’ She just likes to play when there’s something on the line, and in postseason play, there is. She’s the type of player I can go up to, put my hand on her shoulder, and say, ‘Joy, we need you,’ and sure enough, she’ll come in with a few birdies just when we need her. She’s been a key player for us every year to get through to nationals, and I would never not have her in the lineup at regionals.
Question: Regionals comes at a difficult time for the student-athletes, who are right in the middle of final exams. How are the players dealing with that pressure?
Lewellen: I think that an academic school like Virginia, they’re dealing with that quite a bit. They miss quite a bit of school in the spring, and by the end of the semester, they have learned to handle it. They’ve had good communication with their professors, they’ve made all the arrangements that they’ve needed to, they’re studying to get ahead, so they’re handling it well. I think they’ve put themselves in a position academically so that they can focus both on their golf and their finals and do well at both.
Question: As a coach, what can you do to help your players cope with the pressure of regionals?
Lewellen: Our team plays a lot of qualifiers. What I mean by that is that in the summer, they’re trying to qualify for the U.S. Amateur, they’re trying to qualify for the U.S. Open, they’re trying to qualify for their state championship. They do a lot of qualifiers, so as we get towards regionals, we do that in practice. I’ll have a score in my head or put it on paper. I won’t tell them what it is, but I’ll tell them, ‘You need to go out and be the best that you can be. Then when you come back, let’s see if you’ve gotten this score.’ So we do a lot of qualifying-type drills to prepare them, but you know, that’s the nature of golf and all the amateur tournaments. For the ones that are going to continue on to golf qualifying school, making the cut is part of golf. I think they know how to handle that situation.
Question: The team has advanced to the NCAA Championships each of the last three years. Do you feel any added pressure considering your past success at the regional level and your high seed heading into this weekend’s tournament?
Lewellen: I don’t feel pressure being the No. 2 seed. We want to make it through and get to nationals, and I think that’s our goal. I think we’re just going to go out there and give it our all. I think if we play well, we’ll be at College Station.