Orlando, Fla. – During the times the Virginia women’s golf team meets with Keswick resident Bob Rotella, one of the world’s leading sports psychologists and an advisor to some of the professional golf’s most successful competitors, he reminds them that, when conditions are at their toughest, that can be their opportunity to better their competition.
Before Tuesday’s round at the UCF Challenge, head coach Ria Scott reminded her team of Rotella’s message and they responded.
Playing in windy and cool conditions in Orlando, Fla., the Cavaliers erased an 11-shot deficit and exploded up the leaderboard to win their first tournament of the 2021 season.
UVA shot 1-under 287 on Tuesday at Eagle Creek Golf Club to post a three-day total of 5-under 859 to take home the team title. The Hoos finished one stroke ahead of second-place Wake Forest. The Cavaliers were the only team in the 17-school field to shoot under par during each of the final two rounds.
“I truly believe that the conditions that we qualified in back in Charlottesville helped us prepare for a day like this,” Scott said. “When we got out here today, we said there is no team more prepared to play in this cold and wind than we are. I think they really believed that. There were times our players were playing clubs more than 30 yards what they would normally hit.”
UVA senior Beth Lillie (Fullerton, Calif.) and sophomore Celeste Valinho (Jacksonville, Fla.) tied for third place to pace Virginia. Both players shot 2-under 214 as Lillie played her final 36 holes at 5-under par. It was the Lillie’s 10th top-10 finish during her career and the first for Valinho.
“Beth has become such a leader on this squad,” Scott said. “She’s played some incredible golf at home. She won our fall competition and she was low in all of our qualifying. We’ve known that Beth Lillie has been playing great for the last seven months, but the rest of the golf world hasn’t really known that because she hasn’t been able to compete.
“She’s so calm and collected on the golf course now. Her confidence really spills over into her teammates. All of these gals that are in this lineup this week, there’s a way about them that brings calm to their other teammates because they know they’ve got each other’s backs on the golf course.”
Junior Riley Smyth (Cary, N.C.) had the team’s best final-round score, shooting 2-under 70. She completed play in seventh place at 1-under 215. Freshman Jennifer Cleary (Wilmington, Del.) posted a 10th-place showing in her collegiate debut. She shot 2-over 74 on Tuesday and finished her three rounds at even par 216. Sophomore Virginia Bossi (Como, Italy) was 73rd at 231.
The UCF Challenge was the Cavaliers first tournament of the season. The program did not compete in the fall as part of the ACC guidelines for the sport under its COVID-19 protocols.
“It has been so long since we’ve competed,” said Scott who is in her third season at UVA. “We haven’t really had a measure for the work that we’ve put in in the offseason. I think it really validates all of the offseason work these players have been doing, and just gives them a lot of confidence headed into the rest of the season because we beat some really high-quality teams here.”
The victory was UVA’s second in its last three outings. The Cavaliers won the IJGA Collegiate Invitational in Guadalajara, Mexico last February before the remainder of the 2020 season was canceled just three weeks later due to the pandemic.
UVA returns to Florida on Feb. 14 to compete in the Moon Golf Invitational at Duran Golf Club in Viera, Fla.
Eagle Creek Golf Club
Par 72, 6,349 yards
1. Virginia 285-287-287-859
2. Wake Forest 277-288-295-860
3. Miami 277-298-292-867
4. Kent State 276-298-294-868
5. Houston 280-281-308-869
6. Arkansas 273-302-295-870
7. Kentucky 289-288-301-878
8. UCF 290-294-296-880
9. Iowa State 291-293-298-882
10. Purdue 294-297-292-883
11. Michigan State 292-296-299-887
12. Penn State 284-306-298-886
13. Mississippi State 286-303-305-894
14. Kennesaw State 291-294-310-895
15. College of Charleston 299-297-307-903
16. NC State 303-301-302-906
17. UNC Wilmington 304-307-312-923
1. Karen Fredgaard, Houston 70-67-72-209
2. Lauren Walsh, Wake Forest 69-68-74-211
3. Beth Lillie, Virginia 75-68-71-214
3. Celeste Valinho, Virginia 69-73-72-214
3. Rachel Kuehn, Wake Forest 66-72-76-214
3. Emily Price, Kent State 65-77-72-214
3. Beth Lillie 75-68-71-214
3. Celeste Valinho 69-73-72-214
7. Riley Smyth 69-76-70-215
10. Jennifer Cleary 72-70-74-216
73. Virginia Bossi 75-78-78-231