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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Popelka propels w-golf to first win in six years

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Tim Glass
Tim Glass / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Freshman Sherlyn Popelka battled through 40-mph winds and 50-degree weather at the Las Vegas Collegiate Showdown this week toward her first collegiate victory in three tries. It was Arizona’s first team win since 2003.

“”It’s huge for the program, it’s huge for the team, it’s huge for these girls (and) for their confidence,”” said head coach Shelly Haywood. “”It’s been a long time, and I think this has put us back on the map.””

After carding a team score of 878, 14-over-par in the 54-hole event, the Wildcats held off the Florida Gators by five strokes en route to a victory that earned them a spot to play at the team championship.

Conditions were terrible in Boulder Creek, Nev., this week, but the Sweden-born Popelka was able to fire consecutive 69s in her first two rounds and a final-round 71 to hang onto the individual victory. She posted a three-round total of 209, 7-under-par.

“”I felt great,”” Popelka said. “”We just had such a great atmosphere and team spirit this week, and I think everyone played really well.””

Popelka, who came to Arizona as a highly celebrated European junior player, was tied with Louisville’s Sara-Maude Juneau heading into the final hole and sunk a birdie putt to seal the victory.

In only her third collegiate tournament, Popelka became the first Arizona women’s golfer to win an event since former All-American Alison Walshe in 2008.

“”Did I expect it? Yes. But did I think it was going to be this soon for Sherlyn? Probably not,”” Haywood said. “”But you know, she played great all summer so she definitely deserved it.””

Popelka is the only Arizona golfer in history to attend Annika Academy, a prestigious school led by former LPGA golfer and Arizona alumna Annika Sorenstam.

“”I knew she was a great player and that’s why I recruited her,”” Haywood said. “”She was one of the top players in Europe, and quite frankly, the conditions today were a lot more like Europe.””

Not only was this win huge for the young Popelka, it was a bold statement by a No. 20 Arizona program that has been struggling to regain national attention for several years.

This team win certainly has Haywood and her players moving in the right direction. Haywood’s team had been on the cusp of breaking out for quite some time, but yesterday, they finally made a name for themselves.

“”We’ve been on the edge all fall, we’ve been right there,”” Haywood said. “”I kept telling them just to believe in yourself and keep your focus, and they definitely did that this week.””

Helping the team to victory, aside from Popelka, were sophomores Nikki Koller, Isabelle Boineau, Margarita Ramos and junior Alejandra Llaneza.

Koller finished in 11th, posting a 222, 6-over-par. Boineau was right behind her in 17th after firing a 224, 8-over-par.

Ramos, the team’s No. 1 golfer heading into the tournament, finished in 28th by way of a 226, 10-over-par. Meanwhile, Llaneza fired a 231, 15-over-par.

The tournament was the Wildcats’ last until February, and they certainly ended on a high note.

“”They really need to just savor this and enjoy it and know that we’re back on the map,”” Haywood said.

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