ATHENS — We’re inside 90 days until the start of Georgia’s preseason football camp and only 116 days away from the Bulldogs’ season opener against North Carolina on Sept. 3 in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff at the Georgia Dome.
There’s not much happening on the football front this week. The players are hunkered down for winter semester final exams and taking care of their academic business. After that there will be a short break available, though the majority of the returnees plan on attending the May “mini-semester,” according to coach Kirby Smart.
By the first week of June, however, the entire team will reconvene for summer semester, offseason strength and conditioning and 7-0n-7 work.
“This is probably the most important time for our team, more so than the spring,” Smart said during a speaking stop in Macon this past week. “Now it’s time to get ready for the season, to build bulk, to get in shape, for getting ready for the heat we’re going to have to play in early in the season. … Classes, too, of course, but we’re going to work and train in the heat.”
Here’s some other stuff of which to be aware ….
1. Women’s golf wins NCAA regional
Bailey Tardy of Peachtree Corners continued her fabulous freshman season by leading the women’s golf team to the championship of the NCAA Bryan Regional in Texas this past weekend.
Tardy, a Norcross High graduate, shot 7-under 209 for the tournament to tie for medalist honors and pace a Lady Bulldogs team that shot a school postseason record of 6-under 858. No. 11 Arizona (864) and UCLA (865) were a distant second and third.
Rinko Mitsunaga, another freshman, fired a 4-under 68 in the final round to pace the Bulldogs to a 1-over 289. Georgia also counted a 1-under 71 from Tardy, a 74 from Jillian Hollis and a 76 from Mary Ellen Shuman, while dropping Harang Lee’s 77.
“When you sign the scorecards and they call your name as champions, you can’t ask for much more,” head coach Josh Brewer said.
The Bulldogs now advance to the NCAA Championships May 20-25 in Eugene, Ore.
2. UGA’s country-clubbers strong
Georgia’s reemergence in women’s golf has the Bulldogs back on top in what I like to call the country club sports. That’s not to diminish the sports themselves because they might be some of the most difficult to master and certainly are highly competitive in college and in the SEC as well.
But women’s golf had come back to the pack in recent years. Despite a long record of sustained success — with 25 top 20 finishes at the national championships since 1979 — the Lady Bulldogs’ berth Saturday ended a six-year drought from the team competition at the NCAA Championships.
Meanwhile, men’s golf and men’s and women’s tennis have continued to stay up top nationally. The No. 3-ranked Georgia men’s golfers, coming off team and individual titles in the SEC Championship, is seeded first in the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional, which will be held May 16-18 at Ol’ Colony Golf Complex. Thirteen teams will compete in the Regional, with the top five teams advancing.
Fresh off its fourth straight SEC championship, Georgia’s Manny Diaz-coached men’s tennis team earned the overall No. 7 seed and will host the Athens Regional on Saturday. It will take on South Carolina State in the first round on Saturday and the winner will take on the Florida State-Baylor victor on Sunday.
Jeff Wallace’s No. 5-ranked women’s team also will host a regional starting Friday. The Bulldogs face North Florida Friday at 4 p.m. for the right to play the Wake Forest-Baylor winner Saturday at 4 p.m.
In both cases, the regional champions will advance to this year’s NCAA Championships, which will take place May 19-30 in Tulsa, Okla.
3. Diamond Dogs save face
The outlook is a little more bleak for Georgia’s baseball team. The Diamond Dogs (23-25, 8-16 SEC) finally got on track offensively long enough to dispatch No. 7 Ole Miss 13-2 on Sunday at Foley Field. However, Georgia had lost five SEC games in a row before that and finds itself yet again in a precarious place as far as postseason prospects.
The league takes only 12 teams for the SEC Tournament. As it stands now, UGA would be the No. 11 seed. The Bulldogs are tied with Auburn, which holds the tiebreaker, and four games behind ninth-place Alabama. They’re one game ahead of Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee, who are all 7-17.
The good news is Georgia plays Missouri on the road this weekend and closes its SEC slate against Tennessee at home. So destiny is pretty much in the Bulldogs’ hands.
4. Pitching picking up
Georgia’s problem is starting pitching as much as hitting. Ace Robert Tyler (3-5, 3.98 ERA), a junior right-hander and projected first-round draft pick, has lost his last two starts and was lifted after giving up six runs in just four innings in Friday’s 6-4 loss to the Rebels. But the Bulldogs have gotten some strong relief recently from sophomore Bo Tucker (five scoreless innings) and freshman Kevin Smith (one inning, two strikeouts).
And senior Heath Holder (3-3, 3.19 ERA), carried a no-hitter to the sixth in Sunday’s win. Holder now leads the SEC in lowest opponent’s batting average (.162) and ranks among the top four nationally in fewest hits allowed per nine innings.