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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA refuge after hurricane

    Junior golfers Alison Walshe, left, and Mary Jacobs had to flee New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast region last year. The duo transferred from Tulane to Arizona this year, but not before overcoming a year of obstacles.
    Junior golfers Alison Walshe, left, and Mary Jacobs had to flee New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast region last year. The duo transferred from Tulane to Arizona this year, but not before overcoming a year of obstacles.

    When Alison Walshe and Mary Jacobs went back to New Orleans to start their junior years at Tulane in August 2005, they didn’t know the impact the upcoming week would have on them.

    The talk of a hurricane sweeping across New Orleans didn’t seem to faze them, nor the rest of the 8,000-student school, for that matter.

    “”Every year in the fall during hurricane season, you have to evacuate once or twice,”” Walshe said. “”Everyone thought it was just another storm. We were just settled in for another hurricane, but then it turned into mayhem, with everybody trying to get out.””

    Walshe and Jacobs, who were both golfers at Tulane, now find themselves golfing for the No. 12 Arizona women’s golf team as redshirt juniors, but the journey to play in the desert was anything but easy.

    After suffering through the damage of Hurricane Katrina last year, which caused an overwhelming hurricane debt, the private university was forced to cut eight sports from its funding.

    One of those programs was women’s golf, which had been ranked in the top 15 for several years in a row.

    The Tulane golfers had a few options. They were all originally forced to evacuate their homes, but once the damage was done, they were given the choice to stay at Tulane for the semester, stay at home or play golf at Southern Methodist in Dallas.

    The whole team made the unanimous decision to transfer to SMU. The players remained members of the Tulane golf team but practiced and attended classes at SMU, which took both of Tulane’s golf teams, men’s and women’s.

    The Tulane squad played in three tournaments in Dallas.

    “”We reported to Dallas and it was just chaotic from there on out because everything was questionable,”” Walshe said. “”You didn’t know where you were living or where the other teams were going or what tournament you could play in.””

    Even then, after the team had moved to Dallas and competed, the athletic careers of the Tulane golfers had essentially been rudely ended with the announcement of the program cuts.

    A new option was given to them by the NCAA when they were told they could receive their year back as redshirts. They could then go back to Tulane for their spring semester and look for other schools to play for in the process, or they could attend Tulane and lose their athletic scholarships.

    Everyone from the team ended up transferring to other schools nationwide, seniors included.

    Walshe said that while the team was at SMU, many of the athletes knew that the program had a chance of being cut.

    “”We had meetings all the time about all of the potential things that could happen,”” Walshe said. “”In the back of my mind I didn’t think anything could happen. I didn’t think that it could be completely cut, but once it was finalized, I was shocked. We had been preparing for it, but once it actually had been announced we were all pretty shocked.””

    The evacuation

    For Jacobs and Walshe, the past year was a roller coaster, a span which included everything from losing a home, moving to Dallas, moving back to New Orleans, then moving to Arizona, and joining a team they can finally call their own.

    “”It’s unbelievable how the hurricane affected everything there,”” Jacobs said. “”It was really stressful because there weren’t a lot of options for us. We knew that we were going to have to backtrack in school if we were transferring, but it’s just a sacrifice that we made.””

    Sacrifice might be a major understatement for Jacobs, who lost her home in the hurricane.

    “”It was devastating,”” Jacobs said. “”When the levee broke, I packed to leave for four days, but when I came back, everything else was lost.””

    Despite the wreckage, Jacobs still maintained a positive attitude about the situation.

    “”I didn’t have anything too personal there, but it’s obviously going to hurt a little,”” Jacobs said. “”Other people had it much worse than we did. Some people had it real bad. I could handle things a lot easier just seeing everyone else’s situation on TV.””

    Walshe did not have as bad a situation as Jacobs, but according to Walshe, about half of her belongings were lost.

    “”It was pretty bad,”” Walshe said. “”When we first went in, there was mold everywhere. It was just shocking. It shows just what a little bit of water can do. All of our furniture was gone. One room was completely devastated, but we still had it better than others who lost everything.””

    As if the hurricane wasn’t enough of an inconvenience for Walshe, she had to transfer to her third school in three years, and is now currently enrolled in her fourth school.

    A native of Westford, Mass., Walshe spent her freshman year at Boston College, transferred to Tulane before her sophomore year, spent last fall at SMU, and is now at the UA. Walshe originally left BC because it was not the typical golf school.

    “”I loved all my schools,”” Walshe said. “”I loved all my friends. Every reason I left was because I wanted to leave for better opportunities.””

    The recruiting process

    Walshe and Jacobs were recruited last fall in the aftermath of the hurricane, and the recruiting style was similar to that of an incoming freshman athlete.

    “”We got hurt by losing a young lady (Julietta Granada) to the professional tour in June of 2005, so that opened up a scholarship,”” UA head coach Greg Allen said. “”We just basically had to sit on that scholarship, and that’s how we ended up having money for both of them, because we lost Julietta at a time kind of in between the signing periods.””

    Said Jacobs: “”Over the Christmas break, we all just spent the vacation looking for new colleges to see if anybody had any openings. They all knew our circumstance. I looked at other schools, but they didn’t recruit me as much as Arizona did, and Arizona is just a well-known golf school.””

    Their first visit was in February, when the recruits were taken to a men’s basketball game against California, and afterwards they mingled with head coach Lute Olson and his team after the win.

    “”It felt like I was in high school again,”” Walshe said. “”I met the teams, viewed the facilities at school, etc.””

    The new team

    For their new team, Walshe and Jacobs figure to solidify an already strong squad that was pre-ranked No. 12 in the nation. Walshe was also named one of Golf World’s “”50 Players to Watch”” in 2006-07.

    The UA has a very young team, with the roster half-filled with sophomores, but Allen said that the addition of Jacobs and Walshe will provide the team with some much-needed leadership.

    “”They bring a lot to our team,”” Allen said. “”They’re coming in as juniors on the golf course, but seniors in school, so they have a lot of maturity about them. They’ve been through a lot going through that hurricane last year and then kind of having to regroup in spring semester at SMU.

    “”They’re just great players. They bring a lot to our team because they’re a little bit older. We’re pretty young, so they come in and they’re new to our program, but they’re like having veterans around.””

    In her first year at Tulane, her sophomore year, Walshe was an All-American, and in that year Tulane won the Conference USA championship. Walshe also received the Conference Player of the Year honor as well as the award for Louisiana Player of the Year.

    “”The team was excited,”” Allen said of the new Wildcats. “”Most of our girls on the team are sophomores, so as freshmen last year, when the two came in for visits, the minute they left town, they knew they wanted Allison and Mary to be teammates because of what they could bring to our team. They had a lot of excitement because it wasn’t only two leaders, but two great golfers as well.””

    Said freshman Brittany Benvenuto: “”We only have one senior on the team. So for them to come on this team, they really add a lot of leadership, and I think they bring a lot of camaraderie to the team.””

    As far as the past is concerned, both Walshe and Jacobs left an entire life behind them, including all of their former teammates, who all split to different colleges.

    “”Leaving the team was the hardest part,”” Jacobs said. “”We were such a close kind of family, that was really tough to break up. That was the most emotional thing anyways – leaving your team and your coach.””

    Walshe is in the same company as Jacobs, but Walshe is thankful for the new life she has been awarded by Arizona, and is also thankful to be with her good friend.

    “”Coming here with Mary is a big help,”” Walshe said. “”I would have gone to a school that I thought was best, but I thought it was just that much better here because she’s here too. She’s so helpful, and we can both rely on each other and lean on each other if anything happens.””

    Walshe also added that now she is proud to join a family that is renowned for producing some of the best golfers in the world.

    “”Here, it’s all about athletics,”” Walshe said. “”It’s an awesome academic school, but there are some huge sports teams here. Being an athlete makes it that much better, especially playing golf. Annika [Sorenstam] and all the other top LPGA players played here.

    “”Whenever I tell people I go to Arizona, they say, ‘Oh my God, that’s perfect for your golf.'””

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