College Notebook: How Richmond embraced its own culture to become last undefeated team standing

Photo courtesy of University of Richmond

Photo courtesy of University of Richmond

Coach Ali Wright knows precisely the identity of the team she’s trying to build at Richmond. She recruits on the three pillars of strong academics, immediate playing time and the chance to be on the ground floor of something really good. That’s a sign of knowing what you have, and selling it well.

Wright’s first recruits are juniors this year, and they’re a big part of the three-tournament winning streak that has caused Richmond to make national headlines. The Spiders are the only undefeated team left in women’s college golf, and their No. 69 position in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings is historic.

Some teams, when on an unprecedented win streak or in uncharted heights in the rankings, will downplay the news. It can create anxiety and produce negative results. Richmond, however, is staying very aware, and not to its detriment.

“I’m kind of a numbers person, when it comes to stats,” she said. “Our team is way into it, too.”

So far this season, Richmond has won the Navy Fall Invitational, the Boston College Intercollegiate and the Bill Berg Invitational. There’s one more start left this fall: this weekend’s Louisville-hosted Cardinal Cup.

Wright has gotten to this season because she knew what to sell at Richmond. That’s a product of paying careful attention while coaching women’s golf at a small NCCAA Division I school, Longwood University, just 50 miles down the road.

“I had been watching from afar but pretty close for about nine years,” she said.

She set the bar high for recruiting, and brought in a class of freshman in 2014 that included Isabella Rusher, Sophie DiPetrillo and Annie Collom. That group led Richmond to back-to-back Patriot League Conference Championships the past two years.

In short, Wright recruited players that knew how to win – and had a hunger for it.

“They’re very determined,” she said. “There’s not really another word for it other than winners.”

And on top of it, “they’re hilarios,” Wright adds. They’re also eating up this three-in-a-row streak. The finishing holes in the past three tournaments – and even dating back to last year’s conference championship – have been some of this team’s best holes.

“I’ve come to realize that they thrive when they know they have to come through,” Wright said.

That said, Wright knows this week at Louisville will be the true test. She played college golf here under former coach Kelly Myers, and knows the University of Louisville course. It’s been a nice change to bring a team here to her home turf that people are talking about.

How far has this team come? Three years ago when Wright was here with a team that included now-senior Elsa Diaz, Richmond came in last – by 20 shots. That team was ranked in the low 200s. Consequently, this has become the tournament that the whole team wanted to come back to so they could “do it right.”

Can the Spiders stay perfect this week? It’s a matter of everyone playing to their potential on the same day, which is hard to achieve in college golf.

Richmond is up for the challenge.


Of note

While one winning streak stays alive, another must come to a close. The University of Arkansas finished fourth at the Ruth’s Chris Tar Heel Invitational on Oct. 13, which marks the first time the Razorbacks (college golf’s top team this fall) hasn’t won. Arkansas finished behind Duke, Alabama and South Carolina. . . . There’s an early player-of-the-year race shaping up between two recognizable faces. Duke’s Leona Maguire won for the ninth time in her career at the Ruth’s Chris Tar Heel while on the other side of the country, Stanford’s Andrea Lee got win No. 5 by co-medaling at the Stanford Intercollegiate. . . . Another Division II team wins a Division I tournament. This time, the University of Findlay won the Dayton Fall Invitational by defeating 14 Division I programs.

Q-School in swing

LPGA hopefuls are back for the second stage of LPGA Qualifying School this week at Plantation Golf and Country Club in Venice, Fla. After two rounds, two college players are in the top 10, and three more are in the top 20.

Fresh off her victory at the Ruth’s Chris Tar Heel, Duke’s Leona Maguire opened with rounds of 70-69 to find her way into a tie for sixth. USC’s Muni He is also a part of that group.

Three shots back, at 2-under 142, three more college players are part of an eight-way tie for 15th. Those players include USC’s Robynn Ree, Oklahoma State’s Maddie McCrary and Florida’s Maria Torres.

The low 80 players and ties advance to the final stage of qualifying in December.

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Tournament I'm watching

What: Nanea Pac 12 Preview

Where: Nanea GC, Hawaii

When: Oct. 23-24

Teams: California, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona, Arizona State, USC, UCLA, Colorado, Washington, Washington State, Hawaii

Storyline: I'm looking forward to who comes out on top among Stanford, UCLA and Arizona State -- three of the toughest teams in the country right now.