National tournament

Olivia Robinson and her UMHB teammates begin their quest for a title when the NCAA Division III National Championships begin today in Houston.

BELTON — Olivia Robinson went home from college and found a summer job.

That sounds normal, except the Mary Hardin-Baylor golfer had more on her mind than simply earning money in between school years when she returned to the Pasadena/Deer Park area last May following her sophomore season.

Robinson and UMHB competed in last year’s NCAA Division III National Championship at Mission Inn Resort’s El Campeon course in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla., but the Lady Crusaders missed the 54-hole team cut by 18 shots and Robinson fell three strokes short of advancing individually to the final round.

Highly motivated, Robinson devised a plan. She would seek employment at Bay Oaks Country Club, a 15-minute drive from home. She knew Bay Oaks would host this year’s D-III national tournament, so working there would offer prime access to improve her overall game and become an expert in how to play the course.

“After nationals, I told my dad, ‘I’m going to try to win nationals next year. I’m going to apply for a job at Bay Oaks so I can practice there,’” Robinson recalled. “He said, ‘You think you’re just going to walk in and get a job?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ So I walked in and said, ‘I would like to work here this summer,’ and they said OK.

“Yes, there was a motive,” admitted a smiling Robinson, who played Bay Oaks three or four days a week last summer and has continued to play there during trips home. “I went in knowing what I needed to do and how I could prepare for it. So it’s something I’ve been working toward since the summer. Everything I’ve done leads up to this moment.”

Her strategy worked, and now the junior’s goal of contending for a national championship at Bay Oaks is alive as UMHB begins tournament action today in southeast Houston.

“It’s definitely something I know is possible, so it’s something I’ve been working for,” said Robinson, who won the American Southwest Conference individual title by six shots last month as UMHB cruised to a 21-stroke victory for its second consecutive ASC team crown and 12th overall.

The country’s No. 24-ranked player, Robinson is joined in UMHB’s lineup by fellow national tournament veterans in senior Cassidy Rawls and sophomore Rockdale product Annie Hasselbach, plus freshmen Victoria Gleghorn and Jade Ming.

All five players posted top-16 finishes at the conference tournament. Robinson (74-78-72—224) became UMHB’s 11th individual ASC champion, Gleghorn (81-82-78—241) tied for fourth to continue her stellar debut season, Rawls (77-87-79—243) placed ninth, and the steadily improving Hasselbach (84-85-83—252) and even-keeled Ming (86-80-86—252) shared 16th.

The Lady Crusaders’ goal in Florida last year was to make the 54-hole cut by being among the top 15 teams out of 25, but a 333-352-333 scorecard gave them a 1,018 total for 17th, 18 shots off the cut line. Robinson aimed to advance to the final round as an individual four months after reconstructive knee surgery, but she missed by three strokes at 84-80-83—247.

UMHB is seeded No. 16 this year, and coach Jackie Ralston likes the Lady Crusaders’ chances to compete in all four rounds at Bay Oaks, whose defenses include thick rough, sloping greens and water hazards on 14 holes.

The Lady Crusaders finished 14th among 18 teams in September’s national tournament preview at Bay Oaks, where in late March they lost a dual match against No. 1 national seed Carleton (Minn.).

“I anticipate us making the cut,” Ralston said. “We plan to play four rounds. We’re familiar with the course.”

The tournament co-hosts are UMHB and the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority. Bay Oaks is the host course for the third time in four years, but UMHB advanced only individual Elizabeth Davis in 2016 and didn’t qualify in 2017.

“This is a special tournament, for one because we’re the host institution,” Ralston said. “We feel extremely ready because we have played there quite a bit. We love Bay Oaks and we’re comfortable with it. Cassidy and Olivia have been team leaders in preparing the underclassmen.”

UMHB is the field’s lone Texas school. Defending champion Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (Calif.) is seeded eighth.

Rawls and Robinson have been occupied with more than golf. They graduated Saturday night — Rawls in sports management and Robinson in mass communication, with marketing minors for both. Rawls has accepted a real estate job in Temple and is engaged to former Belton and UMHB golfer Kyle Revis, who proposed April 14 at Squaw Valley after the Lady Crusaders’ victory.

Robinson is undecided whether she’ll return to school and use her senior year of eligibility. She’s combined her naturally aggressive style with an improved mental approach to improve her scoring average from 81.31 last year to 76.9 this year. Her Bay Oaks experience and knowledge came through in March, when she shot 1-over-par 73 — sparked by a front-nine 33 — against Carleton and won a scorecard playoff for the individual title.

Rawls, a second-team All-ASC player, seeks redemption in her collegiate finale after shooting 95-99-92 at nationals last year.

“I’ve been mentally preparing, because I’ve only been to nationals once and we didn’t win,” she said. “I really think about this tournament as I’ve worked my entire golf career for this. It weighs different. It is my chance.”