The Aggie players stepped up to the tee on the final day of the tournament, sitting tied for second-to-last place. What happened next was a combination of poise, skill and most of all, determination.
“To watch our players never give up until the last putt was really impressive,” said third-year coach Anne Walker, who earlier had been named Big West Coach of the Year. “It shows how passionate and driven this team is and has been all year long”
The 14th ranked Aggie golf team caught fire on Saturday, led by senior Chelsea Stelzmiller. Stelzmiller’s 1-under 71 on the final day led the UC Davis charge up the leader board. The team jumped three spots through the final 18 holes, finishing 20th against the best golf teams in the country.
“They went out there and were having a great time, making putts and fist pumping” Walker said.
The turnaround was impressive considering the Aggies’ struggles through the first three days of the tournament.
A late afternoon tee-time on Wednesday left the players with windy conditions, and a quick turnaround before Thursday’s early morning round was emotionally taxing, explained coach Walker.
“To go out and not have a great first round and have to tee off again in 12 hours [is tough],” she said. “We didn’t start off the way we wanted. That emotional toll carried into the second round.”
The coach pointed to poor ball striking as the main reason for the early round struggles. Still, Walker found the words to inspire her team in the closing rounds of the tournament.
“As a coach I was worried that these kids would forget all the great stuff they’d done this year,” Walker said. “[I told them] ‘Go after every pin, don’t hold back.'”
The 2011 NCAA Championship was the final tournament for Stelzmiller as well as fellow departing senior Alice Kim. The duo has been a perennial presence at the top of the leader board, and will leave huge shoes to fill in the UC Davis golf program.
“Alice and Chelsea hold every record in our record books,” Walker said. “They’ve really set the bar here at Davis, and more importantly those two came in here and started a tradition of winning.”
The pressure of continuing that winning tradition will now fall to the three incumbent starters, freshman Jessica Chulya and sophomores Demi Runas and Amy Simanton.
It was Simanton who posted the Aggies’ best individual score over the weekend, finishing tied for 15th overall.
With this experience behind them, coach Walker is looking to the future of her program, and complimented the poise of her two starting sophomores.
“I’m confident in the leadership that Demi and Amy bring back to the team,” Walker said. “The conversation I had with them was just: Hey you guys are here this week, we didn’t get off to the start we wanted, but you need to be learning.
“We have to go home and know we learned from this event, and that we got better because we were here, and we’ll be a better team next year because of the experience.”