Pena's Progression Right In Line With Program's Improvement
Sabina Pena Hitting Her Stride At Perfect Time For UNT
DENTON - When Sabina Pena decided to move on from her previous school, North Texas was an easy choice with new head coach Michael Akers in the fold.
After two seasons at TCU, Pena was looking for a new home and Denton seemed to be the perfect fit with its new coach in place.
"What appealed to me the most was coach Akers," Pena said. "He called me right after I emailed him about my interest in North Texas. He was so straightforward and very sure of what he wanted, so I could tell that he was very passionate about growing this program. Just talking to coach Akers is what sold me on wanting to play here."
She felt she was able to make her decision for the right reason, which was the feeling that Akers had full belief in her from the first point of contact.
What Akers and the Mean Green got when Pena committed was someone with a strong pedigree to add to an already rapidly improving program. Currently, North Texas has skyrocketed up the national rankings, courtesy of GolfStat, since Akers' appointment ahead of the 2016-17 season. UNT has seen an 89-spot improvement in the two seasons under Akers and assistant coach Kendra Little.
Pena is very pleased with her first season in Denton, which admittedly didn't get off to the best start. Despite spending her fall campaign trying to diagnose what wasn't working, she has showed marked improvement in the spring season. Pena is now among the top three performers on the team in scoring average (76 when including the fall and spring seasons), but has been the team's best performer over the last six rounds, averaging a 75.2.
"My time here has gone so well," Pena said. "It just feels like we are always so excited to be anywhere, whether at practice rounds or tournaments, there's always so much energy and that comes from coach Akers and Kendra. They are always so positive and you can always feel the good vibes. My team is so supportive of everybody. That's all this is about: everyone coming together and pushing each other to be the best we can be."
Looking at her last two tournaments, including an 11th place finish at the incredibly difficult Maridoe Golf Club in Carrollton, both Akers and Pena have seen major steps forward with her swing consistency and putting.
"Sabina is really beginning to play well in the past two events," Akers said of the talented junior. "Her swing is probably as good as any player I have ever coached. Multiple coaches spoke to me at the Bruzzy at Maridoe about how good her swing is. Her putting has also really started taking off as well. Sabina should have a lot of confidence heading into the Conference USA Championships next week. I am very happy with the way she is helping to change the culture of our program."
In regards to her short game, Pena was questioning her ability to consistently make putts outside of 10 feet. Now that she's tweaked her putting stroke this spring, she seems to have rediscovered her confidence. She is comfortable the second she sets foot on a green, regardless of where her approach has landed.
A lot of credit for Pena and the team's continued growth goes to their home facility of Maridoe, which hosted the first Mean Green tournament earlier in April. Pena credits the course's challenging and diverse layout as well as the team's daily practice on it with helping them for anything they see elsewhere.
"It's probably the toughest course any of us have ever played," Pena said of Maridoe. "You feel like if you play well there, or decent there, you can play well anywhere. It's so good for our confidence."
With C-USA Championships on tap for Monday, April 16, Pena and the Mean Green are anxious to get to Fort Myers and believe strongly that they can compete for the title. The tournament runs from Monday through Wednesday from The Verandah Club.
Pena is a key component of a very talented trio that includes sophomore Lauren Cox as well as fellow junior Sol Lee. Pena's continued success only spells more growth for a program moving in a very positive direction.
Much like several other programs in Denton; football, men's and women's basketball, and volleyball to name a few, the Mean Green women's golf team is seeing a lot more success over the past year. Being a part of that has been very exciting for the Sharyland, Texas, native.
"It has been really cool growing with the team and all of us growing together," Pena said. "It's great how much better everything has gotten and how hard everyone has worked to get where we are. The most exciting thing is that it's only going to get better. We are going to keep growing and it's been really cool to be part of this growing program."