Fresh faces on the women’s golf team, including a new coach and sister duo, are leading the team into next weekend's Patriot League tournament with higher hopes than the team has had in years.
Head coach Ali Wright was previously at Longwood University for nine years before deciding to coach the Spiders. She is in her first year coaching at University of Richmond.
“I had the opportunity of seeing current players on the Richmond team when we played against them," Wright said. "I knew it would be a great group and a great place to coach."
When the head coaching position opened, Wright jumped on it. She was encouraged by the support that stemmed from LaRee Sugg, the senior administrator in the athletic department who created the women’s golf department at Richmond.
“What Coach Wright is trying to do for Richmond women’s golf is create a reputation,” said Sara Diaz, a senior on the team. “She’s trying to rebuild the team. She’s very focused on that.”
Wright had seen the golf team play before, but not since recruiting Sara and Elsa Diaz, sisters from San Antonio, Texas.
Wright said the Diaz sisters and junior Jessica Lydia have led the team all year, alternating who plays at the number one spot in tournaments. The other four players on the team have rotated in the fourth and fifth spots, proving to be a dynamic and flexible group.
“It’s a really balanced team,” Wright said. “They have all contributed to get us some low scores.”
Wright said she believed the team as a whole was hardworking, excited about golf and excited to get better. The team practices six days a week but many of the girls golf on their day off.
In preparation for the Patriot League Championship, Wright has made individualized plans for each player. Both Sara and Elsa agree that she is a great coach because she knows each player’s personality and strengths.
The Spiders are hoping to let a few nagging injuries across the team heal before the tournament. Lydia had surgery on her wrist last year and the team saw other aches and pains that made them limit practice throughout the season.
Regardless, Elsa believes the team is ready, and has a great opportunity to showcase the progress they have made over the year.
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“I feel like our players have seen some great rounds. It should be an interesting tournament,” Elsa said.
This season the Spiders have consistently fallen into the middle tier of the Patriot League. They placed eighth out of 16 teams at the Middleburg Bank William & Mary Intercollegiate, the final tournament before the conference tournament.
“I’m looking forward to seeing my team perform at conferences,” Sara said. “We’ve been preparing for this the whole year and I’m excited to see how everyone does under the pressure.”
Sara is not new to the pressures of the big stage. She spent the first three years of her collegiate golf career playing at Texas A&M University-Commerce, a division-two program. Her junior year she received awards for “Golfer of the Year” and “Academic Player of the Year.”
But during her senior year, she quit the golf team to pursue the opportunity of playing alongside her sister.
“Quitting and trying to get recruited with Elsa was taking a huge risk because I could have not been picked up by anyone, and Elsa could have gone anywhere,” Sara said. “Coaches like younger players.”
Maggie Will, the previous coach for the women’s golf team, first saw Elsa play at the national speed golf championships that were held in Richmond. Sara had helped Elsa train for the event, which Elsa won. Will offered them both spots on the team.
“When Elsa and I both got recruited by Richmond it was literally a dream come true.”
Having both sisters on the same team this year has allowed them to grow and improve together. Golf has always been a project between the Diaz sisters and their father.
“It’s a very unique language we have, Elsa, my dad, and I,” Sara said. “I don’t think others would understand us if they heard us talking. Dad is a chiropractor, so he teaches us the biomechanics of golf and how not to get hurt. It’s not just practicing at the golf course, it’s more than that. Our thing has always been ‘how do we get better?’”
Whatever secret language the Diaz family has, it seems to work for them. At the Morehead State Ocala Invitational, Elsa shot two under par and Sara had an eagle.
Although they shoot similar scores, the sisters have different strengths on and off the golf course.“Elsa hits the ball further, but I’m more accurate,” Sara said. “And personality wise we’re also different, Elsa gets more fired up while I’m more structured.”
Elsa described her own playing style as competitive. She said she likes to take risks.
“I like my long game, so I mess around and go for everything,” Elsa said. “I love to get up and try to hit the ball further than other girls. Last tournament I actually hit my driver into a pine tree so I was literally in a pine tree for a bit. You couldn’t even see me.”
Taking these risks has sometimes given Elsa higher scores, but other times the risks have proved to work in her favor. She placed seventh individually out of 85 girls at the Middleburg Bank William & Mary Intercollegiate.
Elsa and Sara both agree that having each other’s presence helps them perform well.
“I rely on Elsa a lot,” Sara said. “I’m so thankful for having her here, it has really shaped my experience at Richmond. There are times at practice when I asked for her help and she didn't practice because she was helping me."
“I’m always going to be grateful for that time because it’s ours. We also know each other so well mentally that we can help each other when strategizing.”
Wright has never coached sisters at the collegiate level, but said she thinks that it is a benefit to the team because they are supportive of each other and have a natural, built-in friendship as sisters.
“Coming in I didn't expect the team to get along as well as we do,” Elsa said. “The team is very supportive – the type where you go out and you say ‘I’m going to do it for these girls.’”
The Patriot League Championships will take place in Annapolis, MD the weekend April 18-19, giving Sara a final shot at a league championship.
“This is my last year of eligibility," Sara said. "This is all I got. I’m really trying to enjoy my time with the team and my last year with Elsa. I’m cherishing every moment.”
Contact sports assistant Jennie Trejo at email@example.com
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