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Peaking women's golf team shoots for SEC Championship improvement

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The women's golf team heads to Birmingham, Ala., this weekend for the SEC Championship. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) The women's golf team heads to Birmingham, Ala., this weekend for the SEC Championship. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
When Golda Borst took over the Kentucky women's golf program, the Wildcats were 77th in the country in the polls. Today, the Wildcats sit at 32nd.

Things have changed a lot since Borst took the job three seasons ago, and while she's striving to mold UK into a perennial Southeastern Conference contender, this team, in particular its four seniors (Ashleigh Albrecht, Betsie Johnson, Heather Lott and Megan Moir), have much to be proud of.

"We have a group of girls that are very proud of this program and how far we have come," said Borst. "When the freshmen came in, they made sure that they knew that and how far we'd come. They have been really clear in where we want to go."

On the flip side, Borst has brought in two talented freshmen with Cylia Damerau and Sarah Harris having earned spots in the lineup this spring. It hasn't always been smooth sailing as the youngsters learn the ropes and make their mistakes, but every day out on the course with the upperclassmen has contributed to their development.

Borst said it was very important for this crop of freshmen to have this season with the seniors to not only learn what life is like as a collegiate golfer at Kentucky, but what this program was all about to help steer them in the right direction.

The Wildcats, after an up-and-down start to the spring on the heels of a successful fall, appear to finally be hitting their stride, and just at the right time.

UK is riding the momentum of a fifth-place finish at Oxford, Miss., in the M&F Bank Rebel Intercollegiate in which Kentucky bested four other SEC squads. It's been a long time coming, but the tournament in Oxford provided the Cats with exactly what they needed headed into postseason play.

"I must say, the golf course there is pretty similar to what we play at home," said Borst. "It was pretty open off the tee. You still had to play good approach shots and have a good short game, but it was a really good course to get our confidence back up."

It wasn't just about playing better and fixing mechanical flaws. Kentucky had to change its mindset to get to this point. While the Cats wanted to do well for each other, the pressure of performing well for one another was proving to be just too much to deal with.

Things had to change.

"We had to do something different. What we were doing wasn't working," Borst said.

Instead of hoping things would get better, Borst made her team have a players-only meeting to talk about changes that needed to be made.

Borst challenged her team and said, "This is your team. You chose the University of Kentucky. How far do you want to take us?"

So the team sat down, talked and decided that instead of working on team goals, they would focus more on an individual approach and worry about themselves and know that in the end, their collective scores would afford the team greater success
Kentucky's finish in Oxford would suggest that the Wildcats are headed in the right direction. Now, they have their sights set on the SEC Championship this weekend with a goal to improve on their finishes in each of the last two seasons when they finished in 10th in 2011 and ninth in 2012.

"With the team that we have, I think a realistic goal is top seven," said Borst. "Looking at the team, looking at the stats, looking where they are and how we're doing, looking at the two freshmen that we have that are strong, I really think that's a realistic goal. Then, it's individually what do you need to do to prepare for this week?"

If Kentucky needs one area of improvement on the course, it's in the short game. The athletes have done a fine job of driving the ball and putting themselves in favorable situations, but they haven't been able to deliver with their wedges and putters in clutch situations for much of the spring.

"At the end of the day, you have to hit the ball closer and take advantage of the opportunities that you have," said Borst.

While the weather hasn't always cooperated this spring in Lexington for the Cats to get out and work on their short game, it's a mental block more than physical that's keeping UK from executing.

"When I took this job I strongly believed we had the facilities that we need to be the best team in the country," said Borst. "I don't think that the weather is that big of a deal. Is it a disadvantage? Yes, a little bit. But if you prepare the best way you can and you're mentally ready, you can go play just as well as a team down south. You just have to be ready for it and adjust quickly."

The last week of practice leading into the SEC Championship in Birmingham, Ala., has been encouraging as the short game appears to be sharpening in practice rounds.

"We've worked a ton on our wedges," said Borst. "We're starting to make those strides the last couple weeks and I'm really excited about that."

And taking down four different SEC opponents heading into championship play?

"I think that was, again, great for their confidence," Borst said. "Is it going to be tough to beat them again at SECs? Yeah, because they are great teams. They do have some girls that are more experienced in bigger and better events than us, but it gave our team a little bit of a taste of what that felt like and that they can do it."

This weekend, Kentucky has a chance to take this program even further. It will be the seniors' last opportunity to compete at the SEC Championship, but the first for the UK freshmen. It will be an experience that could benefit not only the present, but the future of this program for years to come.

"I want to build upon (the current culture), but also change it to win the championship," Borst said. "There always that glass ceiling and Kentucky's never been there, so that's what we're working for and I think it's good for the freshmen to be with these seniors and now try to move it forward and do great things."

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