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Women’s golf rallies to earn their first win of the 2021 season

The Cavaliers overcame an 11-shot deficit to finish one stroke ahead of second place Wake Forest.

<p>Junior Riley Smyth finished seventh overall at the tournament — shooting one-under-215 — and a Virginia-best two-under-70 in the final round.&nbsp;</p>

Junior Riley Smyth finished seventh overall at the tournament — shooting one-under-215 — and a Virginia-best two-under-70 in the final round. 

After nearly a year since their last tournament, the Virginia women’s golf team earned their first win in a thrilling late match comeback this past weekend in the UCF Challenge in Orlando, Fla. The Cavaliers were led by senior Beth Lillie and sophomore Celeste Valinho, who aided the team in finishing with a three-round total of 859.

Coach Ria Scott attributed the victory to the words of sports psychologist Bob Rotella, who often tells the team that “when conditions are hardest, that can be their opportunity to better their competition.” Over the weekend in Orlando, the conditions were windy and cool, and Scott reiterated Rotella’s message to help the Cavaliers pounce on the opportunity to leapfrog the competition.

“When we got out here today, we said there is no team more prepared to play in this cold and wind than we are,” Coach Scott said. “I think they really believed that.”

The grit and determination in the harsh conditions were displayed in the final two rounds of play when the Cavaliers shot under par — the only team in the tournament to do so. Even with a 11-shot deficit, Virginia’s consistent performance — especially late in the game — allowed them to gain a slight edge and outperform Wake Forest by just one stroke.

Lillie and Valinho tied for third place in the tournament’s individual leaderboard — with three round totals of 214. Lillie recorded her 10th top-10 finish of her career by playing her final 36 holes at 5-under par, while Valinho recorded her first top-10 finish with consistent play in all three rounds. 

Scott spoke of Lille highly, discussing how she has “become such a leader on this squad” with a confidence that “spills over into her teammates.” 

In the final round of the tournament, junior Riley Smyth shot 2-under 70 making her the team’s best scorer in the final round, and the seventh place finisher overall in the tournament. To round out the top-10 finishers, freshman Jennifer Cleary recorded a 10th place finish in her college debut at even par 216. 

The win was exciting for the Cavaliers, who were not able to play in the fall as mandated by the ACC guidelines. Their first tournament showcased their hard work in the extended off-season and the promise for a successful season.

“We haven’t really had a measure for the work that we’ve put in in the offseason,” Scott said. “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.”

Virginia women’s golf is back in action Feb. 14 where they are set to compete in the Moon Golf Invitational at Duran Golf Club in Viera, Fla.