Richards leads Women’s Golf resurgence with NCAA berth
For the first time since 2004, The University of Texas women's golf team did not put their clubs away at the end of April.
In fact, they used them almost until the last week of May.
Quite a first step for first-year head coach Martha Richards and quite a foundation to build on looking to 2009.
Three of her top five players who led UT to a tie for 17th in the NCAA Championships in Albuquerque will return next season. Shannon Fish, who was No. 1, will be a junior, while Caney Hines and Kristin Walla will be seniors. Also, four of the Texas top five were making their first-ever appearance in the NCAAs this year. "I was thrilled to rejoin the Texas coaching staff," said Richards about her introduction as head coach last June, coming to UT after seven years at Vanderbilt. She had been an assistant coach at Texas from 1998-2000.
Richards, who guided Texas to five top-10 finishes in their final six tournaments of the regular season, led the women to a third-place finish in the Big 12 Championship -- the best finish for UT since in that event since 2005. The spot in the NCAA Central Regional was Texas' first since 2006.
"I'm more excited today (about being at UT)," she added. "We told the players all year that they could be as good as they wanted to be. They kept buying in. They kept looking at you through hungry eyes. They stayed composed, which is something that we worked on all year.
"This (the trip to the NCAA Championships) was a wonderful reward for our team and everyone who has worked very, very hard since we (Richards and assistant Tracy Parsons) came on campus last summer."
In earning their first trip to the NCAA Championships under Richards, the UT women may have given her a gray hair or two. They did not clinch a spot in the NCAA event until the final hole of the regional when Fish birdied to put the Longhorns in 7th place and punched their ticket for Albuquerque.
"Every shot counts," said Fish of Spring Klein Oak High School, who also played a pivotal role in Texas' third-place finish in the Big 12 Conference Championship as she finished in a tie for sixth.
In addition to the play of Fish, the Longhorns got fine performances from Hines, whose three birdies in the last nine holes in the regional loomed large in advancing to Albuquerque. Ashley Rollins and Walla also played well.
Rollins, who began her career in Albuquerque as a member of the University of New Mexico golf team before transferring to Texas, did not play in 2007. She returned to compete in her senior season after conversations with Richards earlier this season.
"She is a classy young lady," said Richards, who admitted that her first goal after coming aboard last summer was to convince Rollins to return to play for the Longhorns this year.
"Ashley epitomizes the class and maturity we expect of our players," Richards continued. "She takes care of her business on the course and in the classroom."
Rollins, a corporate communications major, recorded a 4.0 GPA this spring.
Taking a moment to reflect, Richards, who led Vanderbilt to a pair of top-10 NCAA finishes, said of her inaugural season as UT head coach, "I don't think anybody expected much from us, to be honest. We started the year ranked 83rd and I know of no other program to make a leap up the rankings as we did this year.
"We'll continue to get better.
"Even in the regional, we were seeded 10th and we were not considered a threat. The progress has come because of the amazing amount of work put in by the players and my staff."
And by Richards, too.