Richards pushing the right buttons
May 17, 2009
If Vandermade needs to get up-and-down for par, Richards will tell the freshman that she has already holed out, sparking Vandermade's competitive fire to stick her shot even closer to the pin.
With junior Shannon Fish, Richards takes a different route. She'll check in, see if Fish needs any counseling, and when Fish often shakes her head no, Richards just walks away.
Last week, before senior Kristin Walla carded the best tournament finish of her Texas Women's Golf career at the NCAA West Regional Championship, Richards and Walla spent time in the practice rounds discussing pre-shot routine and patience.
Richards' motivating tactics are as diverse as her players. Her approach is unique to each one. She understands their specific needs, and how to keep their edges razor sharp.
"She definitely knows how to get me fired up," Vandermade says.
And for the Longhorns collectively, the timing is just right. As the No. 17 seed in its regional tournament, UT became the highest seed in Tempe, Ariz., to advance to this week's NCAA Championship in Owings Mill, Md.
It marks the second-straight NCAA Championship appearance under Richards, who inherited a program in 2007 that had not made a team appearance in the championships since 2004.
"It shows that we have a heartbeat," Richards says.
Or that the sleeping giant is simply awakening. After all, the Longhorns are making their 19th overall appearance in the NCAA Championship.
And the hungry fan base is awakening too. Following UT's remarkable fourth-place tie at the West Regional, Richards' phone and inbox have been chirping.
"This program, and the energy that surrounds it -- there are good vibes coming our way," Richards said. "So for us to get ourselves back in the NCAA (picture) is very exciting for this program."
To say, however, that it was completely expected wouldn't really be accurate. The Longhorns traveled west still reeling from a sixth-place finish at the Big 12 Championship -- after finishing third in Richards' first year.
But that's when Richards' motivating methods especially came to the fore. She took a team that was limping and gave it a swagger -- by not saying much at all.
"I just had two conversations with them, and I think they finally heard me," Richards said."It was just a lot of things I wanted them to think about, and that I'm a big believer in -- `Your actions speak so loudly I can hardly hear you.' They really bought in, and put their noses to the grindstone. They took moments to challenge each other when I didn't have to be there."
And with that, the Longhorns are exactly where they want to be -- in a 24-team field, fighting for a national title.
"There is so much fire left," Vandermade said. "We don't just show up to the national championship. We go there to win."