By finishing second at last year’s Big West Championship and sending representatives to the NCAA Finals and the U.S. Women’s Open, the UC Davis women’s golf team has set the expectations high for this season.
Coach Anne Walker doesn’t think that will be a problem.
“I think we have a depth on the team that we’ve never had before,” Walker said. “We’ve got nine players that I feel can contribute at any time. I think we can maintain a top 25 ranking this year. The postseason is without a doubt going to happen.”
The Aggies opened up the season at last weekend’s Branch Law Firm/Dick McGuire Invitational at the University of New Mexico. UC Davis finished in sixth place out of a field of 18 teams.
“Overall, I felt like it was a really solid start to the season,” Walker said. “If we’d been in the top five, I would have been really pleased.”
The Aggies finished the tournament at 11-over par (887), just 2 shots behind fifth place Oregon. Pepperdine finished in first place at 17-under (859).
The team overcame a sluggish beginning with a strong showing in the final two-thirds of the tournament.
“We played 49 holes of great golf and 5 holes of really mediocre golf,” Walker said.
The Aggies were led by Juniors Alice Kim and Chelsea Stelzmiller, who finished 1-over (220) and 2-over (221) respectively, good for 15th and 17th place individually. Freshman Belen Hernandez also finished with 221 in a tie for 17th place while fellow freshman Amy Simanton finished in a tie for 35th place with a 7-over (226) card. Senior Kimberly Johnson finished 12-over (231), tying for 62nd overall.
Kim, an All-America Honorable Mention last season, and Stelzmiller both qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open in July and have stepped into team leadership roles, Walker said.
“[Kim’s] work ethic is what makes her a great leader,” Walker said. “She really sets the bar for how hard you have to work to be a top Division I player. I think it’s wonderful for the young players to see that and witness that up close.”
Stelzmiller has also been an example for younger members of the team.
“[Stelzmiller] is more of a vocal leader,” Walker said. “She loves UC Davis and is very committed to the team. She’s not afraid to step forward and say what we need to do better.”
While the team got solid performances from its leaders, the Aggies also got valuable contributions from freshman members of the team.
Hernandez, a Merced, Calif. native, turned in a team-best 4-under (69) effort on Sunday while Simanton finished Sunday with her best effort of the tournament, an even-par.
Simanton enters the season having won the California State Fair Women’s Championship in early September. The win marked the third consecutive year an Aggie has won the event.
Despite the positive showing at the tournament, the coach still belives there is room for her team to improve.
“They didn’t sit around and bask in glory because they realized we could have been so much better,” she said.
The Aggies barely had time to catch their breath after finishing the tournament on Sunday before traveling to Colorado for the Ron Moore Intercollegiate tournament, hosted by the University of Denver. (Extra text – 2 paragraphs)
RICHARD PROCTER can be reached at email@example.com.