Bulls Begin Conference Championship Run Sunday
EVENT: American Athletic Conference Championship
SCHEDULE: Sunday, April 16 – Tuesday, April 18
LOCATION: Hammock Beach Resort, Palm Coast, Fla.
COURSE: Conservatory Course
LIVE SCORING: Golfstat.com
SOCIAL MEDIA UPDATES: @USFWGolf | Facebook
By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA, APRIL 14, 2017 – Confident USF women’s golf will shoot for two title victories in a row at a tournament that matters the most.
Action at the three-day American Athletic Conference Championship begins with Sunday’s opening round at the Hammock Beach Resort Conservatory Course. Seeded ninth, first-year head coach Tiffany Prats’ Bulls are looking to capture the program’s first league title since 2012.
USF is back in Florida after a wire-to-wire victory at the Hoya Invitational in Beallsville, Md., on April 11. Nicole Autrique, Maria Rodriguez and Ashley Burke all placed in the top 10 to help the Bulls post a 10-shot victory over host Georgetown. All three players were in the lineup during USF’s third-place finish at conference last season and Autrique tied for third individually.
USF has prepared for the league tournament by facing some of the best opponents college golf has to offer throughout the spring at UCF, Florida State, Miami and Florida. The battle-tested Bulls responded well with five top-10 finishes in seven events..
Nicole Autrique will lead the lineup after securing her third top-10 finish of the season at Georgetown. The senior from Mexico City leads the Bulls with a 74.5 scoring average and four top-25 performances.
Maria Rodriguez moves up to the second spot after tying for fifth at Georgetown, her second top-10 finish of the season. The junior from Cali, Colombia has tied for 15th in each of the past two conference championships.
Ashley Burke looks to continue her hot streak of consecutive top-15 finishes. The senior from Boynton Beach Fla., tied for 13th at the Web.com Intercollegiate and tied for eighth the last time out. Burke has placed in the top 17 the past three years at the conference championship and tied for ninth last spring.
Taylor Moody will compete in her first conference championship after helping the Bulls capture the Hoya Invitational title. The senior from Plantation, Fla., turned in USF’s third-best score of the final round with a 77 in her sixth event of the season.
Mariale Merchan is back in the lineup for the third straight event. The freshman from Caracas, Venezuela registered her first top-25 finish at the Hoya Invitational.
No. 28 UCF, No. 39 SMU, No. 44 Houston, East Carolina, Memphis, Tulane, Cincinnati and Tulsa.
Head coach Tiffany Prats’ thoughts on returning to Florida for the conference championship:
“The girls are finally coming together as a team and after winning at Georgetown, it’s going to be a fun week. The confidence is pretty high and we’ve had a couple good days of practice. Being back in Florida will help too with a golf course we’re familiar with. The fact we were able to go out of state on bentgrass at a place we were not really comfortable playing and were successful, I think that helps us coming back to Bermuda grass knowing what we’re getting into.”
Prats on the strength of the conference:
“I was talking to some coaches at Georgetown and the consensus is golf-wise right now they see The American as probably the best non-Power Five conference there is with UCF, SMU, ECU all being ranked really well. We’ve got a tough road ahead. Last year, we went in with a similar ranking and the girls finished third. There’s nothing to say we can’t go and have a really great week. I think any given day, any team is able to compete. It’s a matter of if we can do it for three days.”
Prats on how facing tough fields throughout the season has prepared the Bulls:
“We’ve proven this year with the spring schedule we’ve had at Florida, UCF, Florida State and Miami, we can compete with the best schools, and we’ve beaten some of the best schools. It’s just a matter of really continuing to believe that this week and following through on it. We can’t get intimidated when we get there, just know that we belong.”
“It’s been really special, we have three seniors and four girls graduating. For all of them, this is how you end your career and the girls all want to go out on a high note. Last week definitely takes the pressure off them. Now they know they have that win and now they can go out and have no fear. It’s kind of like when you’re going to college and you make that decision of where you’re going to school and you play really well after that. It’s exciting to see what we can do after the win. We all don’t want the season to end, especially the seniors that want to keep going. We know what we have to do this week and we’ll see if we can get it done.”