May 4, 2009
What: Lobos at NCAA Central Regional
When: Thursday thru Saturday (May 7-9)
Where: Scarlet Course at Ohio State, Columbus, Ohio
Online: Recaps on GoLobos.com
Live stats: www.GolfStat.com.
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The attitude from coach Jill Trujillo and her University of New Mexico golfers is exactly what you want from Lobos heading into an NCAA event.
The Lobos aren't planning to quietly slip into the top eight at the 54-hole NCAA Central Regional in Columbus, Ohio Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The Lobos are planning the knock a few teams on their rears and battle it out for a regional title - and and then set their sights on national honors.
Why not? The Lobos outplayed then No. 1-ranked UCLA a few weeks ago and roared past a solid Mountain West Conference field to grab that league title by 14 shots. These Lobos are good.
"We aren't going up there thinking we're just going to squeak by, getting eighth place," said Trujillo. "We want to be among the top three or four and show the championships (field) that we're a force and we need to be looked at a little harder.
"We are going to sneak up behind them and we're going to catch some of these teams that don't expect us to beat them."
At regionals, the top eight teams advance to the May 19-22 NCAA Championships to be held in Owings Mills, Md. So, it's not such a bad thing to sneak into the top eight at the Scarlet Course at Ohio State and then pull out your A game for nationals.
But the Lobos feel like making a little noise at Ohio State and Trujillo says a few of her golfers think they can add an NCAA regional title to their individual resume.
"The girls are excited and ready for regionals and working really, really hard," said Trujillo, in her second year at the helm of the UNM women's golf program. "We have a couple of golfers who think they can win at regionals.
"They also are very determined to advance to nationals and not just make it there, but to finish well, finish the highest UNM has ever finished at nationals."
The Lobos carry a No. 22 ranking to Ohio State and also enter the regional competition as MWC champions. Trujillo says grabbing the MWC crown on April 18 was a tremendous boost in confidence for her squad of Mikaela Backstedt, Morgan Grantham, Britney Choy, Jodi Ewart and Rebecca Hellbom.
"It was very important for us to win (the MWC)," said Trujillo. "On paper, we weren't the best team. To go out and dominate the conference at conference, I did not expect that. To win it by 14 shots, I wasn't surprised, but that's not what I expected. I expected it to come down to the wire between (us), UNLV and TCU."
The Lobos will have to tear into those "paper" expectations again at Regionals. There are six teams that carry a higher ranking than UNM into Ohio: No. 2 UCLA, No. 4 Oklahoma, No 6 Wake Forest, No. 9 Purdue, No. 18 Louisville and No. 19 Kent State. Michigan State at No. 23 and Stanford at No. 24 also are solid teams vying for one of those coveted top-eight spots.
"It's a very difficult course, which plays to our advantage because we've been playing difficult courses all year," said Trujillo. "Jack Nicklaus actually went in there and redid a lot of the holes. You can't expect it to be easy after Jack Nicklaus goes in there a second time to make changes. We are very excited about going there and we are up to the challenge."
The rest of the Central Regional field includes Ohio State, Chattanooga, Fairleigh Dickinson, Georgia State, Harvard, Illinois State, Kentucky, Michigan, Murray State, North Carolina State, Notre Dame and Washington. The top eight teams from three regional sites advance to the finals.
The Lobos also have a little motivational chip on their shoulders from 2008 when they missed the NCAA finals by one shot - and the finals were held at the University Championship Course in Albuquerque. However, the Lobos have advanced into the NCAA postseason for 17 consecutive seasons.
"We have one of the best programs in the country," said Trujillo. "We have consistently maintained a Top 25 ranking throughout the program's entirety. You can't beat playing golf at NM. We have our own course, in fact, two courses and our weather is great and our practice facilities are among the best in the country."
The Lobos' top individual threat at regionals obviously is Ewart, the three-time MWC Golfer of The Year. She has a scoring average of 72.25 and is ranked No. 8 in the nation by Golfweek.
"I'm playing well and I have a lot of confidence," said Ewart. "We're also playing well as a team and have improved every tournament."
Said Trujillo: "Jodie is a very special player. Her determination is quite uncanny. She has her moments. She is a 21-year-old woman, but she is going out there to win regionals."
Which is just fine. That's what all the other Lobos are planning to do, too.
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com. Previous GoLobo.com articles can be found on The Richard Stevens Corner.