After a five-day grind in Birmingham, Alabama, the Florida women’s golf team is returning home as SEC Championship runner-up.
The second place finish was historic for the program. This weekend marked the first time the Gators had advanced beyond the quarterfinals at the conference championship.
The event at Greystone Golf and Country Club began with three rounds of stroke play and ended with three rounds of match play After making the team cut and advancing all the way to the finals, Florida fell short of Louisiana State 4-1 Sunday.
After the first round Wednesday, the Gators were tied for second. Junior Marina Escobar carried the team with a 5-under-par 67, a career low.
Going into round two, the Gators at one point were tied for first after sophomore Maisie Filler and junior Jackie Lucena began their rounds with birdies. Later on, Florida fell to fourth place to finish the day. Filler had the low score of the day for UF, an even-par 72 which placed her 10th on the overall leaderboard.
As of round two, Auburn was the only school with a score that was not over-par. This put the Tigers in first place going into the final round of stroke play, three shots ahead of South Carolina and four better than LSU.
Inclimate weather approached during Friday’s round which caused the formatting of the championship to be rearranged. A shotgun start was utilized in order to prepare the field for match play.
After this round, however, the Gators were able to advance to the quarterfinals, making the top-eight cut in a tie for fifth and setting up a clash with Ole Miss. The last time UF reached the quarterfinals in 2019, it was also paired with the Rebels, only to get knocked out 3-2 in a playoff hole.
This year, before the round was suspended due to darkness, Florida led Ole Miss with a 3-2-0 in match play. Junior Annabell Fuller, Manzalini, and Lucena were all up in their rounds before the sudden conclusion. When play resumed the Gators were able to hold on for the win. A meeting with the best stroke play finisher, Auburn.
Filler was Florida’s hero in the semifinals.
The Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, native trailed Auburn sophomore Anna Foster by two holes heading to the 16th tee. Filler wasn’t phased by the moment, though, winning two holes in a row. She clinched the Gators 3-2 victory against the Tigers with a birdie on 17.
The semifinal triumph set Florida up for a championship match with LSU, who had just defeated Alabama 3-1-1.
Throughout this match, the Gators fought hard, but couldn’t outlast the Tigers. LSU was pushed ahead immediately, winning the first hole in all five matchups. Despite this, Manzalini and Filler brought their best game and kept it close against the Tigers.
Manzalini battled with her opponent all round, tying 10 individual holes. The pairing went into extra holes that went unfinished. Filler won three straight holes after a delay in action due to lightning. Once play started again, Filler jumped to a 1-up lead after making the turn.
Despite their efforts, the Gators were unable to secure the conference title.
Florida now looks forward to learning its NCAA Regional destination, and will participate in the event May 9-11. Regionals selections will be announced on Golf Channel April 27 at 4 p.m. The team will be practicing in Gainesville in the meantime.
Contact Lillian Randolph at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @lillyrrandolph.