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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    High hopes for women’s golf this season

    The Arizona women’s golf team is coming off of a strong season in which it finished 23rd at the NCAA Championships in May. As the Wildcats get ready to gear up for the upcoming season, they are ready to face new challenges and pick up where they left off.

    Last week, Arizona was ranked 13th in the Golf World magazine and National Golf Coaches’ Association preseason polls. The team received 283 points with USC, coming off of a No. 1 finish last year, finishing atop the preseason polls with 625 points.

    Overall, the Pacific 10 Conference could be one of the most competitive conferences in NCAA women’s golf, with six teams ranked in the top-25 including USC (1) UCLA (2) ASU (4) Arizona (14) California (20) and Stanford (21).

    “”It’s a standard thing for the Pac-10 teams to be ranked so high,”” said UA head coach Shelly Haywood. “”The Pac-10 is always top-notch and so we are always going against top teams.””

    Aside from a talent-laden conference, another challenge for Arizona will be its ability to play without last year’s star player, Alison Walshe, who was recently named to the World Amateur Team to represent the United States in a tournament held in Australia in mid-October. During the 2007-08 season, Walshe was a first-team All-American, as well as an All-Pac-10 player, and led the Wildcats with a 72.50 stroke average – with 14 of her 34 rounds being played at par or better. Ranked No. 8 in the nation, Walshe also had eight top-10 finishes with seven rounds scoring in the 60s.

    “”Obviously she was a great leader,”” Haywood said. “”But this year we are much deeper, which is something that we didn’t have last year.””

    The team is definitely deeper than it was last year with senior Amanda Wilson and sophomore Alejandra Llaneza ready to lead the way for the Wildcats, both coming off of big years in which they were amongst the Wildcats’ top golfers. Wilson had two top-20 finishes and played in 11 events while Llaneza quickly established herself as a solid player in her freshman campaign, earning an honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection.

    Behind Wilson and Llaneza is a solid group of golfers fighting for the last few spots in the starting lineup, which is only five players during tournament play. Junior Brittany Benvenuto is one of those players and she made her case for a final spot two weeks ago when she won the Pennsylvania State Amateur Championship. Junior Emily Mason – who ranked fifth on the team last year with an 80.23 stroke average – may play a big role this year as well. Mason showed a lot of improvement in her game towards the end of last season as two of her three low rounds for the year came during her last four starts.

    The starting lineup will not be finalized until later next week when Haywood looks at the players more carefully.

    “”We are a very young team,”” Haywood said. “”We have four freshmen who just came in, but we are looking good and have had a lot of good practices.””

    The freshmen – Isabelle Boineau, Nikki Koller, Ashley Malaska, and Margarita Ramos – could see action this year in tournament play, as they account for nearly half of the 10-person roster. While they are all untested and unproven collegiate players at this point, they can expect to be a big part of the team and may provide some of the depth Haywood wants, providing her with multiple options if they are needed to play.

    Last season’s 23rd-place finish at the NCAA Championships could provide, along with the four fresh faces, the team with exactly what it needs: experience and confidence coming into the season. The team had to battle through some unexpected hardships including winds of up to 70 mph, imploding scores and a delay of the second round of the tournament. This year, the Wildcats will push to put that performance behind them and carry that experience with them into this season.

    “”We learned that we need to work hard and play a little bit better,”” Haywood said. “”I think that it definitely made us mentally stronger. … We all know that we could have done better and they have said that they all want to be pushed now.””

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