GULF SHORES, ALA. – The UTEP women’s golf team won the Conference USA championship on Tuesday at the Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club in Gulf Shores, Ala., and Teresa Nogues was the individual winner.
It marks the Miners’ first conference title and the second in UTEP golf history. The Miner men claimed the Western Athletic Conference crown in 1985.
"It's a really big deal to us,” said coach Jere Pelletier, who has headed up the UTEP program since 1994. “We played well and the girls have been working hard. It was really competitive the whole time and all the teams were really bunched up, but we certainly played our best. We couldn't be happier."
UTEP earned C-USA’s automatic bid to NCAA Regionals and will be taking part in the event as a team for the first time. Regionals are slated for May 5-7 at three sites -- Daytona Beach (Fla.), Notre Dame (Ind.) and Seattle (Wash.). The National Championship is set for May 18-21 at The Traditions Club in College Station, Texas.
"That'll be the first time that we've taken the whole UTEP team to regionals, so we're excited about it,” Pelletier said. “We've got a couple of weeks to work hard and try to be ready for it, but the girls couldn't be happier."
The Miners entered C-USA’s pinnacle event rated the seventh-best team in the league by Golfweek, but stunned a field that included two ranked teams in no. 13 Tulane and no. 42 Tulsa.
UTEP recorded a team total of 904 with three solid rounds of 302, 302 and 300.
"I thought that was they key - that we were consistent the whole time,” Pelletier said. “I thought it might take a 295 to win, but this is a hard golf course and we handled it well."
Tulsa finished second (309-301-296-906), Tulane third (303-304-300-907), Memphis fourth (312-296-303-911), UCF fifth (304-305-303-912), SMU sixth (302-306-305-913), East Carolina seventh (309-306-302-917), Southern Miss eighth (309-312-308-929), Marshall ninth (316-329-304-949) and UAB 10th (317-323-320-960).
Tulane was denied its third straight league title.
Three UTEP players landed in the top-15 of the individual standings. Nogues shot a two-over par 218 (71-75-72) to hold off runner-up Marissa Steen of Memphis (77-70-73-220).
Rosana Gomez tied for fifth place, carding a 224 (74-76-74), and Shang-Fan Huang tied for 12th place, shooting 228 (77-74-77).
UTEP’s final scorer was Ana Pastor, who tied for 34th place (84-77-77-238). Liz Sobczak finished 46th with 80-83-85-248.
With Tulsa in the clubhouse and the Miners clinging to a two-shot lead over the Golden Hurricane, Nogues cemented UTEP’s title drive by firing even par on the final three holes. She finished an even-par 72 for the day and made par on each of the last seven holes.
“The girls are finally starting to see that they can play consistent golf,” Pelletier said. “This team seems to buy into what I’m telling them and play the game the way they’re supposed to.
“They didn’t make any big mistakes, they just accepted some bad shots and moved on. That was the big deal. We had to get a good score either from Liz or Ana and Ana stepped up. I give her lots of credit. She really grinded and stuck it out.”
Nogues and Gomez were named to the All-Tournament team along with Memphis’ Steen, Tulsa’s Marita Engzelius, and Tulane’s Meghan Chapman & Maribel Lopez Porras.
The previous best conference finish for the UTEP women was a tie for third in 2007.
Nogues becomes UTEP’s second conference medalist, joining Gerina Mendoza who was the WAC individual champion in 2007.