The Colorado women's golf program's most successful regular season is in the rearview mirror. Spring semester finals are in the books. CU's home course at the Colorado National Golf Club is in pristine shape, befitting an NCAA regional tournament.
So let the good times (and hopefully the birdie putts) roll. For the Buffaloes, there's no good excuse not to play well and they're not in search of any excuses. They're fit and focused, precisely where they want to be on the eve of NCAA West Region play.
"Just finished my last exam 45 minutes ago," an unburdened and overjoyed Jess Wallace beamed on Tuesday a little after 2 p.m. "To be able to come out here and not do anything - just go out play golf, go home, rest . . . there's no homework to worry about, no stress over exams. It's going to be a lot more relaxing - the no-school part at least."
Here's the golf part: The 2011-12 Buffs can concentrate on taking what would be a giant step for CU women's golf. The program is looking to advance to the NCAA Championships - set for later this month in Franklin, Tenn. - for the first time. Of the 24 teams in the West, eight will move on, joining eight each from the NCAA East and Central Regions.
What's at stake could make for some serious "scoreboard watching" if the Buffs aren't focused, but coach Anne Kelly truly believes they are. This is her most productive team, with seniors Emily Talley and Wallace joining sophomores Alex Stewart and twins Jenny and Kristin Coleman as CU's top five.
"We've played our best when the team stays relaxed and has fun, when we don't worry so much about the outcome and stay focused on the task at hand - the shot at hand, the day at hand, whatever," Kelly said. "I think when we start looking at scoreboards and start thinking about outcomes or winning, it's not the best for this team."
But will that be tough to do, knowing what's at stake? Kelly doesn't think so.
"They're awfully competitive . . . very motivated," Kelly said. "It's just a matter of maintaining concentration. We just have to keep our eyes off the scoreboard - put some blinders on. It's a good experience; a lot of girls on this team would like to turn professional. They've got to get used to everything that goes along with the big tournaments. That's what they'll learn this week. It's great to have family and friends and CU people out here watching, but we've got to stay focused on what we're trying to accomplish."
Added Stewart, ranked No. 36 nationally in the latest Golfweek individual rankings: "Everyone is pretty focused right now and at the top of their game. I feel like we can do pretty well out here."
Ten Pac-12 Conference teams qualified for the NCAA regionals, with half of them (UCLA, CU, California, Stanford, Oregon State) settling in the West field. CU is seeded fourth in the West behind (in order) UCLA, Louisiana State and North Carolina. Pac-12 champ Cal is fifth.
The Buffs haven't played competitively on their home course since Oct. 8-9, 2010, when they won the Heather Farr Memorial Invitational. But it's still home and they "know it like the backs of our hands," Stewart said. "It'll hopefully be good; there are no excuses."
Stewart, who transferred to CU last year from Purdue, says CNGC's defense "is the wind . . . so if it picks up expect the scores to go up a little."
Not to say the 6,575-yard, par-72 course will be defenseless, but the Thursday-Saturday weather forecast appears favorable - at least from a wind perspective. No gale force gusts are expected, with the three-day high at 9 mph on Friday, which for the Colorado Front Range is pretty close to a dead calm.
But this is early May and there will be a significant temperature drop - from a high of 83 on Thursday to 58 on Friday to 55 on Saturday. Showers, increasing from a 30 percent chance on Friday to a 40 percent chance on Saturday, are in the forecast.
As they say, it's springtime in the Rockies, which ain't quite the same as in Baton Rouge or Berkeley. But CU, as well as the women from the University of Denver (No. 15 seed) and Northern Colorado (No. 23), won't be caught without their foul-weather gear.
The Buffs have advanced to regional play three times in program history, with this season's fourth seed the highest. After winning an all-time best three events, they finished sixth in the Pac-12 tournament but were in position to challenge entering the final round.
"We're coming together at the right time," contends Wallace, a Pepperdine transfer two years ago. "We've played pretty well this spring. In the Pac-12s, even though we finished sixth, we were right in there until the very end. So I feel like everyone's game is coming around."
Entering her fourth regional appearance (two each at Pepperdine and CU), Wallace concedes, "In hosting there's probably a bit more pressure. But I think it kind of balances out in the advantage that we have of knowing the course so well. I think it'll play a really huge role; we've played this course so many times. I've only been here two years but I've played it countless times. This course is a big comfort factor; we know it really well, we know what we're capable of on it. We know what's safe to hit. I think we can play really well here."
Kelly called Talley, ranked No. 46 individually, and Wallace, ranked No. 74, exemplary seniors: "They lead by example and they haven't had any senioritis, so to speak. They're very motivated. They're missing graduation (Saturday) but I haven't heard one peep from them about that. I think they're having fun - and we want to keep having fun."
That, of course, would mean finishing among the top eight and advancing. Stewart terms that possible step "huge. I think it would help with future recruitment. It would definitely help our program a ton. It would get our name out there."
Said Wallace: "The team hasn't been to a national championship before and we know that. We're also aware of how capable this team is and we know that we deserve to there. We just have to play our game and we'll be there. It requires a certain amount of focus, but you don't want to throw yourself off and make it out to be something really huge when it's just another tournament. So we've just got to take care of our own business."
The CU women's program is in its 17th season, with Kelly in command for 15 of those. She and assistant Brent Franklin anticipated a rise this season and last, and she's eager to see this one extended. Her players have made no secret about wanting to advance for their coach, but Kelly wants it for their sake.
"Most of all, it would mean a lot to me because I know it means so much to the team," she said. "And this is a special bunch. More than anything I would just love to see them go as far as they can."