Texas-Dallas women’s golf team continues to play with heavy hearts

University Texas-Dallas Athletics

Texas-Dallas women’s golf team continues to play with heavy hearts

College

Texas-Dallas women’s golf team continues to play with heavy hearts

MIRAMAR BEACH, Fla. – University of Texas-Dallas women’s golf coach Butch Edge stood on the beach at Sandestin Resort and watched his players as they talked and laughed near the Gulf of Mexico, dark blue waves crashing in the background underneath a clear, powder-blue sky.

“Powder blue, that was her favorite color,” Edge said.

It has been an emotional nine months for Edge and his team. On Jan. 31, sophomore Shreena Bhakta committed suicide in her campus apartment room, just 12 days after her 21st birthday. Bhakta’s death sent a shockwave through the team. The mourning period was difficult and, at times, seemingly impossible. Disbelief. Distress. Devastation. The Comets felt all of it.

“It’s been a rough year,” said Texas-Dallas graduate assistant coach Hailey Hollas, a senior on last year’s team.

But as the Comets compete in the Golfweek Division III Fall Invitational, which began Sunday at Sandestin’s Baytowne Golf Course, they continue to move toward a sense of peace.

“It’s good to see them laugh, and get out and enjoy life,” Edge said.

Bhakta was the first player Edge recruited when he arrived at Texas-Dallas in 2015. During one of his first days on the job, Edge received an email from Bhakta, a star player at nearby Plano Senior High School, who wanted to play for the Comets because the campus was close to home and she wanted to study computer animation.

“I went and watched her play, and met her family,” Edge said. “I remember her saying, ‘Coach, I’m in.’”

Bhakta made an instant impact on the Comets women’s golf team. As a freshman, she tied for 15th at the American Southwest Conference Championship and was named the team’s player of the year. She also joined Delta Zeta sorority.

But it was her infectious personality that had the biggest effect on the team. Bhakta, though profoundly deaf, was a 5-foot-1 bundle of joy and energy. She had a great sense of humor. She was a prankster. She always had a smile on her face. And her laugh.

“She had the most infectious laugh,” Hollas said. “She kept everybody in a good mood and good spirits.”

After making her first birdie as a freshman, Bhakta put her arms at her side and flapped her hands up and down, like a bird. It didn’t take long for the team to start doing it, too.

“Everybody loved Shreena,” Edge said. “She was the stick that stirred the drink for our team. … They’ll never forget her. She’s left an indelible impression on their hearts.”

Shreena Bhakta committed suicide earlier this year. (University Texas-Dallas Athletics)

Edge also will never forget the phone call. He was at home when he answered and the father of sophomore Marissa Langer, one of Bhakta’s roommates, opened with, “Coach, I don’t have good news.” The funeral service was tough, as well. Bhakta’s family reserved the team spots in the front row.

“I had young ladies who had never been to a service before,” Edge said.

Somehow, the Comets still had to play golf. Less than three weeks later at their spring opener, the Claud Jacobs Invitational in Victoria, Texas, Edge played his whole team, now down to just five players, as individuals. Langer and freshman Lindy Patterson were able to place in the top 10, but being back on the golf course didn’t feel right.

Texas-Dallas was then supposed to play California Baptist’s home event during spring break, but the team collectively decided to pull out.

“They looked at me and said, ‘Coach, we just want to go home,’” Edge said.

Added Hollas: “It was good because we needed that. Everybody was still dealing with it. It wasn’t good timing.”

The rest of the spring was a blur. The Comets played well at the ASC Preview, finishing second, but ultimately couldn’t repeat that performance at the conference championship, placing fifth. Still, there was a lot to be proud of. Hallas received the conference’s sportsmanship award while Patterson and Langer became the program’s first two All-Americans. Patterson was one of three players named co-player of the year.

And the coach-of-the-year award went to Edge.

“He was the right guy in the right place to handle this type of situation,” Oglethorpe coach Jim Owen said. “His grandfatherly hand helped nurture the girls through tragedy.”

This fall, the Comets finished third in their season opener, the Rockwind Links Intercollegiate in New Mexico, as Langer tied for second individually. Now, they are in the Florida Panhandle looking for another strong finish.

The expectations remain tempered. Texas-Dallas has yet to play a four-day event (including practice round). And this is still, after all, a team playing with heavy hearts.

“I hope we play well, but no matter what I’m proud of them,” Edge said. “My gut tells me that they’re still hurting a little bit. I don’t know what’s going to happen this week. But I do want us to continue to try and get our emotions back. We love her and will always remember her, but we have to keep moving forward.”

That’s what Bhakta would have wanted, her team says.

“It’s still fresh, but at the same time there’s a fire to come back and play well for her, to play because she can’t,” Hollas said. “She always had this lively attitude on the golf course. If we can bottle up her mentality and bring it with us on the golf course every round, we’ll be good.”

The Comets continue to wear ribbons in honor of Bhakta. The ribbons feature Bhakta’s favorite animal, an elephant, and – of course – her favorite color, powder blue. Gwk

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