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Two For the Price of One
April 17, 2018
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PALM COAST (UCFKnights.com) -- The UCF women's golf team saved its best for last at the American Athletic Conference Championship this week. The Knights' best finish all season was sixth and they entered the conference tournament as the No. 5 seed. But senior Kaeli Jones and the returning Maria Balcazar led the Knights to a runner-up finish at the Conservatory Course at Hammock Beach Resort. As an added bonus, the women's golf team clinched the annual War On I-4 Rivalry Series over USF for the second straight year.

"We;re ecstatic," UCF head coach Emily Marron said. "I'm so proud of how they finished today. They fought to the end and we'll take a tie for second this year. It's a cool rivalry (series) that started last year and this is the second year in a row that women's golf has been able to capture it. It's exciting to know that all year round, our teams at UCF play really hard against South Florida. For us to clinch it again, we're really excited about that."

On the course Tuesday, the Knights entered play in third place, trailing Memphis and Houston. The Knights battled all day with Memphis and East Carolina for runner-up honors, while Houston pulled away to take the team title. Eventually, ECU and UCF finished with identical scores of 884 (+20) to share second place.

In five years of play in the American Athletic Conference, Marron's Knights have taken two championships and two runner-up finishes.

Jones was in contention for individual medalist honors throughout the tournament, before eventual winner Taryn Torgerson (Wichita State) pulled away on the final three holes of the round. Nonetheless, Jones played nearly flawless golf on Tuesday. She carded a 3-under 69 with no bogeys. Her three-day total of 215 (-1) was good enough for a fifth-place finish.

"It was great to finish on a high note at conference," Jones said. "It feels great to finish on that note for my senior year at the conference event. I'm very proud of our team for battling through. Nobody expected us to finish this high."

Balcazar missed much of the spring recovering from surgery on her wrist, after taking part in some fall events. Her return helped the Knights immensely at The American Championship. After carding scores of 74 and 76, Balcazar played one of her best rounds of the season with six birdies and four bogeys to score 70. That 2-under score on Tuesday left her at +4 for the tournament and lifted her into the top 10, finishing eighth.

"It was fun," Balcazar said. "I just tried to go out there and do my best. It's only my second tournament after my surgery. I just wanted to go out there and play as well as I can."

Freshmen Ana Laura Collado and Chinatsu Kobayashi were also solid on Tuesday. Collado turned in a 73 (+1) and finished the tournament tied for 20th at 10-over par. Kobayashi was 2-over in the final round and carded a three-round score of 227 (+11) to finish in a tie for 22nd. Nicolette Donovan rounded out the Knights' lineup and was tied for 31st, but her second round 76 was important to keep the Knights in contention on day two.

"I'm really excited for the whole team," Marron said. "I mean, it was a team effort today. Maria played great, Kaeli played well, the freshmen ... all around a team effort. Couldn't be happier."

In the War On I-4, women's golf's portion of the rivalry series is decided at the conference championship event. UCF bested South Florida, which finished ninth at The American Championship, by 40 strokes. That gave UCF enough points in the overall series to claim victory for a second straight year. For the second straight year, women's golf was the team to secure the trophy.

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