Good thing for Diana Cantu, Kelly Hovland has an exceptional poker face.
Cantu, in her seventh season as the head women’s golf coach at Maryland, doesn’t like to get too caught up in a leaderboard, and her assistant coach is good at not giving it away. Cantu, who played at Tennessee from 2006-10 and started her coaching career at Baylor, knows what’s going on in a single round, but focuses less on the bigger picture.
“I learned that it just was not good for me – it didn’t translate well for me with the girls,” she said. “So it’s better for me to keep my poise and my goal for the day with the girls.”
This was the case last month when Maryland flirted with the title at the Gators Invitational but ultimately dropped to a tie for third in the final holes. It would have been a monumental win in an ACC- and SEC-heavy field. It was head-turning nonetheless.
There’s a time for big picture, and Cantu found that to be the case with the frequent Zoom calls that replaced team interaction through late spring 2020 and into the summer – once COVID had scattered most college golf teams. In fact, Maryland got into the big, big picture.
“We had zoom calls where we didn’t necessarily talk about golf. With everything happening in the world – social injustices, there were so many other topics for us to bond over and we just did a lot of that during the year,” Cantu said. “It was funny, our first day of practice, it was January 26 or something. It felt like there was absolutely no day that went by between March and January.”
Truly, Maryland picked right back up where it left off. Last month, the Terps landed in the top 20 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, continuing an upward trajectory that correlates with Cantu’s arrival. At the end of the 2014-15 season, Cantu’s first as head coach, Maryland was ranked No. 114.
At the end of the 2019-20 season, Maryland landed at No. 46.
Cantu rewinds the story to the 2018 Big 10 Championship, when the Terps went shot-for-shot down the stretch with Michigan State and ultimately came up four shots short – the best finish since Maryland joined the Big 10 Conference. Players who were freshmen that year are now seniors.
“I think that was just a little bit of wow, I didn’t know this was something we could do so that moment, when the seniors now were freshmen, the mindset and the mentality for the program just changed,” she said. “The standard was so much higher.”
Cantu suddenly realized it was all about rewiring her players’ thinking. At the beginning of every semester “we put it up in the cloud,” she said, that this team is a top-40 team in the country and good enough to compete in the postseason.
“We talk about it the first five or 10 minutes of our team meeting,” Cantu said. “We say these are the facts, this is how good we are but we then set them aside and focus on the day-to-day what are we going to do to get there.”
When recruiting, Cantu was also looking for a specific player: One who wants to leave the program better. Now, there are three seniors plus a fifth-year senior in Cantu’s lineup, and there are heavy emotions surrounding the last-chance aspect of college – especially considering so much was taken away between last spring and this fall.
Here’s a team that has never played the NCAA Women’s Championship, and what a storybook ending that would be.
Maryland’s last start in the spring of 2020 was the Miami-hosted Hurricane Invitational on March 2-3. The Terps won it. Cantu started the same five women from Miami in both of Maryland’s spring tournaments.
At the FAU Paradise Invitational, Maryland finished second to Michigan State by a shot and at the Gators Invitational, the team was seven shots behind co-champs Florida and Ole Miss.
“I think as a coach, it’s really exciting because they didn’t get to finish last year and then to have the opportunity to have the same team come back, it’s exciting to see,” Cantu said.
Something says there’s more milestones ahead.
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/03/05/college-golf-maryland-women-diana-cantu/