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Virginia women's golf dominates ACC tournament, sets sights on NCAA title

Only 12 years into existence, the Cavaliers won their first-ever ACC title in record-setting fashion

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The last 15 years have seen a golden age for Virginia’s non-revenue sports. Virginia’s baseball, tennis, and rowing teams have joined soccer and lacrosse as national powers. Swimming and Diving has remained strong. Wrestling has ascended to the top of the ACC.

This spring, the Virginia women’s golf program cemented its place among the best of them.

The women’s golf team achieved one of its proudest moments in program history when it won the school's first-ever ACC championship in dominant fashion in mid-April. The Cavaliers finished 27-under-par after 54 holes at the Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C. to win the ACC tournament title. They finished 26 strokes ahead of second-place Duke.

You read that right...26 strokes ahead.

In doing so, Virginia set the all-time scoring record in ACC tournament history. They also set the all-time scoring record in UVA program history. And in dropping the Blue Devils, they left the defending national champions in the dust.

"It’s unbelievable for many reasons," Virginia coach Kim Lewellen said in a phone interview. "To win by that much just shows how well our team performed."

In a field of 55 players, all five of Virginia’s team members finished in the top-20. Senior Briana Mao led the charge, tying for first place at 10-under. Junior Lauren Coughlin and sophomore Lauren Diaz-Yi finished tied for fourth at 6-under. Freshman Lyberty Anderson, whom Lewellen likened to the "Bubba Watson of women's golf," finished seventh at 4-under. And junior Elizabeth Szokol finished 17th at 2-over.

"They [the entire team] needed to perform well at the same time, and they did," Lewellen said. "They’ve all had individual performances throughout the year at different tournaments that were very strong. For them to do it at the same time at such a big venue for us…it was just phenomenal."

While only five of Virginia’s team members travel during the postseason, the Cavaliers have a full complement of 13 players on the team. It’s the largest squad Lewellen has had, and she thinks the team’s size provides an advantage: more team members means better competition in practice.

"They push each other at practice," Lewellen said. "They always have someone to practice with if they want to do a little extra."

Virginia has been a program on the rise ever since it began 12 years ago. The Cavaliers have been to the NCAA finals seven of the last eight years and have two fourth-place finishes on their resume. Still, the first ACC title carries special meaning. The 2015 Cavaliers are the only team outside the state of North Carolina to win the crown. Lewellen, who starred as a player at UNC, became the first women's golfer ever to win an ACC title as both a player and later a coach.

Of course, the ultimate goal for the program will be to breakthrough in the NCAA Finals and win a national title. On Monday, Virginia was seeded third in the West Regional for the 2015 NCAA tournament, where UVA will compete against 17 other schools, with the top six squads advancing to a 24-team NCAA final. Play will begin May 7.

If the Cavaliers make the tournament final this season, they could end up taking part in match play, which was recently added to the finals format. Lewellen hinted that her team might be even better suited for match play than it is for stroke play.

"Getting through regionals is always a stressful situation," Lewellen said. "Once we get to the finals, we just have to continue doing what we've been doing."

If the Cavaliers show the same depth at the NCAA tournament that they showed at the ACCs, then the rest of the country might need to look out.