Playing in windy and cool conditions in Orlando on Tuesday, the Virginia women’s golf team erased an 11-shot deficit to win UCF Challenge, their first tournament of the 2021 season.
UVa shot 1-under 287 on Tuesday at Eagle Creek Golf Club for a three-day total of 5-under 859 to take home the team title. The Cavaliers, who finished one stroke ahead of second-place Wake Forest, were the only team in the 17-school field to shoot under par during each of the final two rounds.
“I truly believe that the conditions that we qualified in back in Charlottesville helped us prepare for a day like this,” Virginia coach Ria Scott said. “When we got out here today, we said there is no team more prepared to play in this cold and wind than we are. I think they really believed that. There were times our players were playing clubs more than 30 yards what they would normally hit.”
Senior Beth Lillie and sophomore Celeste Valinho both shot 2-under 214 to tie for third place to lead Virginia. Lillie played her final 36 holes at 5-under par to post the 10th top-10 finish of her Cavalier career.
“Beth has become such a leader on this squad,” Scott said. “She’s played some incredible golf at home. She won our fall competition and she was low in all of our qualifying. We’ve known that Beth Lillie has been playing great for the last seven months, but the rest of the golf world hasn’t really known that because she hasn’t been able to compete.
“She’s so calm and collected on the golf course now. Her confidence really spills over into her teammates. All of these gals that are in this lineup this week, there’s a way about them that brings calm to their other teammates because they know they’ve got each other’s backs on the golf course.”
Junior Riley Smyth had the team’s best final-round score, shooting 2-under 70. She completed play in seventh place at 1-under 215. Jennifer Cleary posted a 10th-place showing in her collegiate debut. The freshman shot 2-over 74 on Tuesday and finished her three rounds at even par 216.
The UCF Challenge was the Cavaliers’ first tournament of the season. The program did not compete during the fall as part of the ACC guidelines for the sport under its COVID-19 protocols.
“It has been so long since we’ve competed,” said Scott who is in her third season at Virginia. “We haven’t really had a measure for the work that we’ve put in in the offseason. I think it really validates all of the offseason work these players have been doing, and just gives them a lot of confidence headed into the rest of the season because we beat some really high-quality teams here.”