Feb. 3, 2004
BERKELEY, Calif. - With three consecutive NCAA Championships appearances to its credit, the California women's golf team looks to show it's a perennial national title contender in 2004.
The Golden Bears have improved each season they have advanced, from 19th in 2001 to 15th in 2002 to a tie for 14th last spring. However, the disappointment of last season's NCAA showing, when they entered the competition with a No. 2 ranking, has provided the motivation for Cal to not just return to the 2004 NCAA Championships but to strive for the winner's podium.
"There's a bitter taste in their mouths," said ninth-year head coach Nancy McDaniel, who was named the 2003 National Golf Coaches Association and Golfweek Coach of the Year. "We're learning from that every day. We're staying on top of our commitments and not letting anything slide. Our seniors have a lot of pride and take last year's NCAA performance to heart."
Even though last season didn't culminate as the Bears would have hoped, there were many highlights. Cal claimed a nation's-best seven tournament titles - three in the fall and four in the spring - including its first ever Pac-10 and NCAA regional championships. Vikki Laing, who has since graduated and has joined the LPGA tour, won the school's first conference individual title over the 2003 NCAA champion, Mikaela Parmlid from USC, and took second at the NCAA Central Regional.
Laing and Sarah Huarte were chosen as Cal's first All-Americans for women's golf. The Bears also had a program-record six golfers earn all-conference recognition - Laing and Huarte on the first team, Ria Quiazon on the second team and Claire Dury, Sophia Sheridan and Mika Takayama received honorable mention honors.
The Bears are deep again this season, with five golfers being ranked in the top 80 nationally by Golfweek and six sport fall averages under 76. They also benefit from international experience, as Dury (New Zealand), Sheridan (Mexico) and Sofie Andersson (Sweden) all have played for their country's national teams.
Three seniors look to make sure Cal's 2003-04 season ends as well as it started. Huarte led the Bears to a season-opening 20-shot victory at The Topy Cup by taking second in the individual race. A second team Golfweek preseason All-American, Huarte led Cal during the fall with a 73.4 stroke average, which is on pace to break Laing's school record of 74.3 set last season.
"We called upon Sarah to get more experience at the national level, and she played tournaments all summer," said McDaniel of the nation's No. 17-ranked golfer. "She came back with a fire and maturity about her that's going to take her a long way. If she stays on top of her game, she will likely lead our team in the spring."
Dury has been a sparkplug for the Bears since enrolling at Cal for the spring 2002 semester from Massey University in New Zealand. She has performed well at NCAA regionals each year, tying for 12th with a 222 at the 2002 West Regional and earning all-region accolades for a fourth-place showing (221) at the 2003 Central Regional.
"Claire attacked her weaknesses in the offseason," said McDaniel. "A breakout for her is right around the corner. We look for big things from her this spring."
Anna Temple, known for her tenacity, has shown the most improvement of Cal's returners. As a junior last season, the Berkeley native was chosen as the team's Most Improved Player after posting a 77.2 stroke average. Entering the spring, Temple is ranked No. 34 nationally with a 74.3 average and had an impressive fourth-place finish in October at the Edean Ihlanfeldt Invitational. McDaniel credits Temple's recent development to the 34 days she spent travelling and competing over the summer on the Collegiate Asian Tour.
"It was an awesome opportunity for Anna," said McDaniel. "She was not a big traveler, and then she went over to Asia and saw things she never saw before. She had an incredible experience. She came back with a perspective on her golf game that's going to carry her through her senior season."
Two super sophomores bolster the Bears' lineup. Sheridan is back after posting top 30 results in seven of the 10 tournaments she competed in as a freshman and all three 2003 fall events. Her best performances last season were at the Bay Area Classic, where she took second place, and at the Kent Yoeul Invitational in Hawaii, where she grabbed fifth. "Sophia's passion for the game is contagious," said McDaniel. "She's an enthusiastic player who hits the ball a mile. Her spirit, coupled with her new-found consistency, have elevated her to a new level this season."
The other sophomore, Andersson, is in her first season at Cal after competing as a freshman at Mississippi State and brings poise to the Bears. Andersson earned second team All-SEC recognition in 2002-03 on the strength of eight top 20 finishes, including four in the top 10. During the fall at Cal, she battled a back injury, but still entered three of four events and placed seventh at the Edean Ihlanfeldt Invitational.
"Sofie has been a terrific addition to our team," said McDaniel. "Her attitude and calculated practices each day are valuable to our program. Sofie's attention to detail has resulted in strong iron play. She hits her irons on a rope, right at the pin."
The future of Cal golf lies with freshmen Danielle Nash and Eunice Yum, who are in-state products from Roseville and Torrance, respectively.
Nash twice saw action in the fall, at the Stanford Intercollegiate and at the Hooters Collegiate Match Play Championship. She carded a low collegiate score of 72 in the opening round at Stanford. With Nash on the squad last year, St. Francis High School continued its streak of six consecutive Northern California golf championships.
"Danielle is completely coachable," said McDaniel. "We're going to see some outstanding golf from her in the next few years. With each collegiate tournament, she becomes a better player. She has a smile on her face all of the time and is ready to work hard."
Yum will likely redshirt the 2003-04 season. She is a three-time MVP of South High School's golf team and is the school's three-time Athlete of the Year.
"Eunice has been a great team player," said McDaniel. "She always supports the team. Developing her distance is one of her focuses. Once she gets that down, she'll be ready to play in our top five."
Cal's lineup is clearly stocked with athletes who can put Cal in the national championship picture again this year.
"They approach everything they do with a national championship in mind," said McDaniel. "We want to be in the mix, not the light mix, though. We want to be in the last group, on the last day, at the last tournament, and have a good time playing good golf."
With that attitude and their prior NCAA experience, Cal may return from Alabama in late May with the sweet taste of victory and a national championship trophy.