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TU Women's Golf Team Has Sights Set High

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The pursuit of a championship is something that consumes the Tulsa women's golf team day and night. The team has been so close the past few seasons and has fallen short every time.

"I hate to mention it but we did lose by one shot to UTEP (last year) and it was kind of a downer," junior Kristina Merkle said. "You're so close you can taste it and then it's ripped away from you. It's a sick feeling.

"No one wants to go through that."

Tulsa learned from that one stroke loss in the Conference USA championship last year. UTEP edged the Golden Hurricane for the title but the Miners also renewed Tulsa's focus.

This year, Tulsa thinks it has what it takes to finish on top of the leaderboard in the league tournament when it tees off from the Peninsula Gulf Club in Gulf Shores, Ala. on Monday.

"This is the first year that I really feel like we're going to go all the way," senior Sarah Elliot said. "I've been here four years and haven't gotten a (championship) ring yet. I really think it's our year and it will keep us all rolling going into regionals."

This is the 30-year anniversary of the TU women's first of four national championships. It's also the only national championship for any sports team in the history of the University of Tulsa. The 2012 team thinks this is not just their year to take home a C-USA title.

They are setting their sights much higher.

"This is my last chance with the two other seniors on the team," Marita Engzelius said. "We really, really have strived for this."

Their coach said he agrees.

"I have all the confidence in the world in these young ladies," Fifth-year coach Randy Keck said."They deserve to win. They have done everything possible to put themselves in position to win."

Keck knows winning. He won a national championship at the junior college level. The 30-year anniversary of Tulsa's title team comes up constantly with the current crop of players. There is a sense of pride being part of a program that reached the summit of the sport.

"We kind of talk about it all the time," Merkle said. "We walk into (workouts) and see the banner and we're like, ‘Yep, we're the only team on campus with a national championship'. I feel ready for these next couple tournaments coming up."

Merkle has been the Golden Hurricane leader all season. She is averaging a 72.8 score per round and has finished tied for sixth or better in seven of the eight tournaments this year. She finished tied for second at the GolfWeek Challenge back in September.

Engzelius earned the conference golfer of the week award after shooting a five-under par 211 in the Ole Miss Rebel Intercollegiate last week. She came in second place in the 87-golfer field.

Elliot, a black belt in karate, has played well (76.7 average) and fellow senior Kamryn Ruffin (76.3 average) has finished in the top-30 twice this year.

To win the conference and national titles it will take a team effort from every player out on the course.

"If we don't win we're going to be very, very disappointed," Keck said. "We said it all along – we're here to win championships."

The Golden Hurricane is ranked No. 33 in the college golf rankings. The top fifty teams make the regional tournaments. The regionals will be played at three different sites and the top eight finishers in those tournaments advance to the national championship tournament May 22-25 in Franklin, Tenn. Conference champions receive an automatic bid to the regional rounds.

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