May 15, 2002
By Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz
Sarah Huarte used to play her best golf on the pastures surrounding her parents' 20-acre ranch.
Today, the sophomore's best golf is being played on finely manicured golf courses as a member of the 16th-ranked California women's golf team. The Golden Bears advanced to their second NCAA championship May 21-24 in Auburn, Wash., after finishing third at the NCAA West Regional May 9-11. This was the Bears' highest finish at a regional in three visits.
Huarte has been a major factor in the team's success after her season began auspiciously with a 93rd-place individual finish at the NCAA Fall Preview on the Washington National Golf Course, the site of this year's nationals. Since posting an 81 in the first round of the NCAA Fall Preview, she has recorded 29-straight rounds under 80 and 10-straight top 25 finishes, including six in the top 10.
After placing ninth at the Pac-10 championship, Huarte earned first team All-Pac-10 honors, along with her teammate, Vikki Laing. The duo became the first Cal women's golfers to be named to the top all-conference team. Huarte barely edged out Laing for the team's Most Valuable Golfer award.
Cal head coach Nancy McDaniel couldn't have asked for more from Huarte's sophomore campaign.
"I'm very pleased with the consistency she has brought to the team," said McDaniel. "I'm not surprised, but it's hard to expect consistency in golf. She's a great player, a natural athlete and a competitor to the end."
Despite her run of success, Huarte hopes her best golf is still ahead of her.
"I've improved a lot since I came to Cal because of our practice schedule, the competition and everything I've learned here on the mental as well as physical side of golf," the 20-year-old said. "I hope I'm not peaking right now. I have two more years. Hopefully, that'll come senior year, and I'll improve every year after that."
There's no reason to believe Huarte won't continue to improve. After averaging 76.8 strokes per round as a freshman, she has cut her average to a team low of 74.6 and is No. 47 in the Golfweek/Sagarin national rankings.
The Bears' starting five for the NCAA championship, in order - Laing, Huarte, Ria Quiazon, Claire Dury and Anne Walker - are not considered superstars, but they all are capable of leading the team on any given day. Everyone but Dury also competed at last year's NCAA championship. Huarte claims she's the quiet one on the team and that Quiazon and Walker are the vocal leaders.
Even without a superstar, Huarte believes in her team's potential to do well at nationals.
"We get along great," said Huarte. "That's a big part of our team. The best teams in the nation also have team chemistry. I don't think you need a true superstar to win. We have five solid players. That's a national championship team when you have five players who can all go low on any day."
Before coming to Cal, Huarte grew up in Shingle Springs, Calif., about 40 miles outside of Sacramento. Her father, Jim, and her older brothers, Brian and Shawn, taught her to play golf when she was nine, but she didn't start playing year round until she was a freshman in high school.
There was enough land around the Huarte house for the children to live an active lifestyle, which included riding horses and golfing anywhere they could work on their games.
She has had to undergo some adjustments living in Berkeley.
"Before my recruiting trip, I can't say that I'd ever been to Berkeley," said Huarte, who intends to major in American studies. "It's definitely different from where I live. Berkeley is as opposite as it gets from where I live. It's not a bad place to spend four years of your life away from home. It's definitely different though.
"I'm a country girl all the way. I go home about once every two weeks. It's really relaxing where I live. There's not much to do besides play golf. I live 45 minutes outside of Sacramento. Everything is quite a drive."
Huarte, who could have attended Oregon State or Ohio State, came to Cal with a long list of credentials. At St. Francis High School, she won the California state high school tournament and took top honors in five competitions during the summer of 1999, including the California State Junior in Monterey. A three-time all-metro selection in golf, the 5-9 Huarte also played basketball as a freshman and sophomore.
When Huarte first began playing golf, her goals were to defeat members of her family. As Cal approaches its second NCAA championship, her sights are much higher.
"We have a good chance," said Huarte. "We proved it last week at regionals. We're right up there with the best teams, even though teams from the East and Central weren't there. The Pac-10 is such a strong conference that if you can play well in the Pac-10, you have a shot at anyone. We've had a goal since the beginning of the year to win nationals. That's still our goal."