Coaches almost never go into competition thinking about anything less than winning.
Missy Ringler has certainly shown that as she nears the end of her seventh year coaching the women's golf team at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She's guided the Rebels to three Mountain West Conference titles and six straight NCAA regional appearances, earning conference coach of the year honors twice in the process.
But sometimes, satisfaction can be had and progress made, even in the absence of victory.
That was the case for the Rebels last weekend at the Mountain West Conference Championships in Seaside, Calif.
After Thursday's opening round, they were in fourth place with an 18-over 306 total. Friday, they struggled to a 26-over 314, remaining in fourth in the seven-team field. The thought of winning was slipping away, but the opportunity to improve remained.
So Ringler coaxed her players to a final round of 12-over 300 -- their best of the tournament, tied for the best round of the day Saturday and just three shots off the best mark of the weekend.
That gave UNLV a third-place finish with a 920 total, just three shots behind second-place Texas Christian, with New Mexico winning at 903. With the NCAA regionals set for next week, that final round gave Ringler some satisfaction.
"We hadn't played as great as we'd wanted to," she said. "So our goal on the last day was that we needed to finish third or better. The girls were really focused, and I was proud of the way they pulled it together. We almost had a chance to get to second place.
"A couple girls told me, 'Coach, we haven't played well, but we're going to finish this out and play hard.'"
Indeed. Four of the five Rebels finished in the top 16 among 35 players, led by Therese Koelbaek, whose 8-over 224 total tied for third with TCU's Brooke Beeler. And Koelbaek was just one shot out of second and three strokes behind winner Jonelle Martinez of Wyoming.
"The last round, she played the front nine extremely well, then got to the back nine and was struggling a little bit," Ringler said of Koelbaek, who closed with a 4-over 76. "But you can't take anything away from the way she played all week. I'm really proud of where she finished."
Kristen Schelling shot 74 to tie for 10th at 231, Alejandra Guacaneme (76) tied for 13th, and Natasha Krishna (74) tied for 16th. Ringler was particularly happy with Guacaneme's effort.
"Alejandra really pulled it together," Ringler said. "She played a really good tournament."
Koelbaek and Krishna were both named to the All-Mountain West Conference team, the third time in Krishna's three years at UNLV that she has attained the honor.
"She's my first player to get it three straight years, so that's really exciting for us," Ringler said. "She's just been a completely solid player for us."
Actually, Ringler's whole five-player contingent -- rounded out by Bethany Glassford -- has been solid this year. UNLV had a sterling three-tournament run this spring, winning its own Spring Invitational, taking second at Arizona's Mountain View Collegiate, then winning the Indiana Invitational.
"This is probably one of the best teams I've had at UNLV, from top to bottom," said Ringler, who took over the program in 2002. "I feel we're really deep."
The Rebels are ranked 29th in the latest Golfweek poll, and they'll next head to one of the three 21-team regionals, aiming for a trip to the NCAA Championships. More than likely, UNLV will get to play close by -- the West Regional will be at Arizona State's Karsten Golf Course.
"I'm pretty certain we'll be going down to Tempe," said Ringler, noting that works well, as her team has some experience with the course. "Three out of the five have played there before. Kristen is from the area and has played it several times, Natasha has been there, and Bethany has played a couple times down there. So I feel pretty good that the majority of my players have seen the course, and Therese and Alejandra always bring their game, so they'll be fine."
The Rebels are following up on a season in which they took second at regionals to reach the NCAA Championships for the third time in five years, having also advanced in 2004 and 2006. A top-eight regional finish would give UNLV back-to-back national berths for the first time under Ringler.
"I think our chances are great," she said. "We're expecting a top-eight finish this year, and I feel very positive about our chances.
"We've had a great spring, and this is a really good team. We'll go down there and play, and see what happens. We're working for something higher at regionals: getting back to nationals."