At the end of the season the question stood – how would UC Davis women’s golf move forward without graduating seniors Alice Kim and Chelsea Stelzmiller?
That question has been answered.
The Aggies exploded out of the blocks in the 2011 season, opening their season with a first-place finish at the Ptarmigan Ram Fall Classic in Ft. Collins, Colo. It was a result that even surprised coach Anne Walker.
“It was really exciting and unexpected to be honest,” she said. “We never talked about winning going into the event; we just talked about our commitment to work really hard. This group is very focused and driven and [in the first tournament] we got a glimpse of how good this team can be.”
Junior Demi Runas finished first individually for the first time in her collegiate career, shooting five-under over three rounds. Fellow junior Amy Simanton finished tied for ninth at three-over as the Aggies beat second-place host Colorado by two-strokes.
The duo of juniors will look to have more success this season both as solid performers on the course and as team leaders off it.
“Last season everyone wanted to talk about [Kim] and [Stelzmiller], and they were great players, but as a coach I was never really worried because I knew we had two solid players returning,” Walker said. “This season they’ve really developed and they’ve really matured. They had a chance to learn about being great leaders from Stelzmiller and Kim and we’ve seen that already this season.”
Both Runas and Simanton played every tournament for UC Davis last season. Runas led the Aggies with four top-five and eight top-10 finishes, while Simanton ended the year tied for second on the team with an average score of 74.9 strokes per-round.
Sophomore Jessica Chulya will be expected to step up and feel a bigger role this season with the loss of Kim and Stelzmiller. The Bangkok native played 30 rounds last season finishing in the top-10 twice and in the top-20 four times.
UC Davis will also rely on freshmen Blair Lewis and Beverly Vatanangulkit to fill starting spots. The two freshmen made their debuts in Colo., and made an impression on Walker.
“They looked like veteran players,” she said. “It didn’t look like their first tournament, but on the flip side they both have a lot to improve on and that’s something I’m excited about. The goal for them is to continue getting better and growing their game.”
While the Aggies have been encouraged by what has transpired on the course, they have also seen good signs in practice.
“Practice has been very focused and there has been a high level of intensity,” Walker said. “Everyone is working well and being very competitive.”
One area that has received special attention in practice has been the team’s short-game. While some teams pride themselves on being able to launch the ball off the tee, UC Davis wants to be known as the team that can put the ball on the green.
“We decided that our goal this year is to get our short game percentage above 60 percent as a team,” Walker said. “That’s something we want to take pride in, and we want to identify ourselves as a team that makes up for it if we miss the green.”
If the Aggies are able to lock down their short-game they could be looking at a third-straight Big West Conference Title, and an NCAA Regional berth.
UC Davis will continue its season Oct. 3 at the Northwestern Invitational in Chicago, Ill.
TREVOR CRAMER can be reached at email@example.com.