By GABE COHN
Two weeks ago, the University of Tampa’s women’s golf team competed in the Daytona State Invitational. This marked their first tournament of the 2016-2017 season. Five of head coach Missy Jones’s players qualified and competed in the tournament. Junior Jess Wild led the Spartans with a score of 158 in the two weekend rounds and was followed by senior Holly Cannon (167) and freshmen Katelin Lawson (171), Kensi Olson (176), and Lauren Fantaroni (187). UT shot an overall score of 672 and finished 10th out of 12 schools that took part in the weekend affair.
This was a unique first tournament for the Spartans because a couple of the golfers, who were supposed to make the trip to Daytona, were unable to compete due to international ineligibilities. So after Fantaroni and Olson took their place, the Spartans had a total of three girls making their first collegiate appearances.
Cannon expressed how proud she was of the freshmen.
“I think that we played pretty well considering the circumstances we were under for our first tournament,” Cannon said. “Two of our top five girls were ineligible to compete so we needed to bring two freshmen instead. I thought they had a great attitude under the circumstances, they played really well, and got experience from it too. I’m very proud of our freshmen so far and can’t wait to see their improvement over the next few months.”
The team is going through a transition period this season because four girls (three starters) graduated last spring. It’s hard for any team, no matter what the sport, to lose three starters, but, it was even harder for the UT women’s golf team because two of the team’s starters forewent years of eligibility to graduate early.
Starters Alyssa Morahan and GraceMarie Schian graduated with two years of athletic eligibility remaining. So, a team that was a very veteran heavy just a year ago is now very underclassman heavy.
This season the team bolsters six underclassmen and only four upperclassmen, so, they are looking to grow, one tournament at a time.
Coach Missy Jones explained her team’s strengths and weaknesses heading into the rest of the fall and beyond.
“I would definitely say their major strength is discipline,” Jones said. “They have found ways to stay connected academically to their responsibilities while they attend all team workouts, practices and qualifiers. They are very coachable young ladies and follow our team practice outlines very well. If I had to say a weakness it would have to be our lack of experience due to losing two of our starters to early graduation.
Fortunately, their next tournament isn’t until Oct. 9, so they have time to work out the kinks and grow their team confidence in practice. For each practice, Jones gives her team a list of drills to do in each area of golf, has the team write down how they compared to the goal that was set, and has them write down the specific club used for each shot. This regimen is a very clear way to measure the team’s performance and allows them to work on their weaknesses, according to Jones. Jones thinks that precise practice leads to consistent results whereas random practice (mindlessly hitting balls on a range) leads to random results.
Jones has a very precise practice schedule and regimen for her girls to follow, but she also uses a unique technique to get her team ready for every tournament situation: pressure shot practice.
“Golf is not reactionary like baseball, basketball, hockey etc.,” Jones said. “The ball is just sitting there; it doesn’t come at you. Therefore, if we don’t practice under pressure then we will tense up when there is pressure. I give my team certain drills that create pressure so they can avoid any negative thoughts and be prepared for pressure-filled situations on the course.”
The special practices are helping the players develop, but junior captain Hanna Grevellus says that Jones does more than just help their golf games.
“Coach Jones doesn’t just help us develop our golf games, she helps us develop as people,” Grevellus said. “She makes sure that we play for each other and not just for ourselves. Some might see golf as an individual sport, and in one way it is, but Coach Jones makes golf a team sport.”
The Spartans will have several opportunities in the month of October to grow as a team and improve. UT will play in the Guy Harvey Invitational in Fort Lauderdale, in the Saint Leo Invitational in Dade City, and in the Flagler College Fall Slam in St. Augustine.
Gabe Cohn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org