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Kentucky rain not dampening women's golfers' spirits heading into NCAAs

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Freshman Sarah Harris looks to build on her second-place finish at SECs in the NCAA Regional at Auburn. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Freshman Sarah Harris looks to build on her second-place finish at SECs in the NCAA Regional at Auburn. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Fresh off the best finish in the Southeastern Conference Tournament in 20 years, the Kentucky women's golf team is headed to Auburn, Ala., for NCAA Regionals in pursuit of more history and a trip to nationals.

As the Wildcats have done all season long, they will have to fight through adversity to realize that goal.

The Wildcats had a great week of preparation heading into the SEC Tournament two weeks ago with fantastic weather in the Lexington area and plenty of time out on the golf course. The preparation and a renewed focus helped vault UK into a top-five finish at SECs and put the Cats in contention for a strong seed in the NCAAs.

With confidence soaring for the Wildcats heading to Auburn, Mother Nature has done her best to rain on the parade - literally.

The Kentucky spring weather has been unkind to leisurely casual golfers and collegiate golfers alike this spring season, whether it's been a chill in the air or moisture on the ground. With no end in sight to the less-than-ideal golf conditions, head coach Golda Borst went into improvisational mode to prepare for this weekend.

The Wildcats took to the range and visualized the Auburn golf course to the best of their abilities. With all of the distances and dimensions at their disposal, they created a virtual course and played it at the range.

Players estimated their shots, used a range finder, aimed at the "green" or flag or a different target on the range. They would imagine their shot, execute and estimate whether or not they were close to their target.

"The girls did a really good job and got really into it and tried to make the best of the situation," said Borst. "For me, that's what it's about .We're going to have tough conditions, and this time it was extra tough."

Preparing in that fashion will at least give the older players a refresher on a course that the seniors have already played in their career, but this week's preparation is particularly important for the freshmen who have never seen it.

"The more mentally you can prepare, the better because when you get there, it's like, 'Oh, I've played this before. I kind of had an idea of what this looks like,' " said Borst. "Then I would walk around and help them remember some of the holes."

And having the experience of Auburn's University Club golf course should not only give the upperclassmen an edge, but they will also be able to pass along their wisdom - as they've done all season - to the freshmen.

"Three of the girls have been there. They know what's coming," said Borst. "They know emotionally how to prepare for it. They can talk to the two freshmen about it and kind of give them an idea about the golf course.

"I think the golf course sets up for us well and I think they'll do a good job. We just have to make sure that we stay focused on us and play within ourselves and play the game we know that we can play, and we'll do a good job."

Kentucky's preparations aren't limited to the Bluegrass, however, as Borst got her team ready to go a couple of days earlier to head to Atlanta, Ga., and get an extra round in before heading to Auburn for the NCAA Tournament as she continues to try and find any additional edge she can provide her players.

Despite the distractions of early travel and a rainy day - or week - Kentucky has remained cool, calm and collected, much like the Cats were heading into the SEC Tournament.

"They've been very calm and very focused," said Borst. "They know what they need to do and they're ready to do it. I must say, there's a different mindset this year than there was the last two years."

Freshman Sarah Harris, who recently took second place individually at the SEC Tournament, might be able to continue to carry the Wildcats as they look for a top-eight finish to advance to nationals, but she's going to need some help.

While junior Liz Breed has been very consistent this season, Kentucky will need seniors Betsie Johnson and Ashleigh Albrecht to continue to battle the emotions of their senior season and put up a solid tournament. Albrecht carried the Cats for much of last year much like Harris is doing now late in the season, but she's yet to find her consistent stroke.

There would be no better time and place for Albrecht to rediscover it than this weekend at Auburn.

"It would mean a lot to me as a coach," said Borst. "Not necessarily because it would help us advance, but it would help her with her game as she moves on to be a professional golfer because it would help her confidence. I think that would be really big to know that she has it in her, and she does, it's just the more rounds you can get around par and under par, it will validate her."

At the end of the day, the Wildcats will need to bridle their emotions for this event and remaining as relaxed as possible, knowing that they don't have to do anything special to achieve a top-eight score.

Though Borst is confident that the Auburn course sets up well for her team, it's all going to come down to the short game, which has been the story of the season.

"You have to make the big putts on every single day because a lot of times it comes down to the last hole on the last day, missing it or making it by one shot," said Borst. "We worked a ton on putting here in the last week and a half because I know how important it is. As you prepare, I want the girls to know that they gave it their all and they are fully prepared for whatever comes their way this week."

It hasn't been perfect, but Borst has done her part to get her team ready for just that. If she has it her way, which has been tough for her to come by in her never-ending battle with Mother Nature, Kentucky will be standing in the sunshine having clinched a trip to nationals.

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