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Davis, California

Monday, April 15, 2024

Column: Keep on Walker-ing

If you follow sports on the UC Davis campus, it’s probably hard for you to wrap your mind around the idea the in the near future an Aggie team could contend for a national title.

With all of the struggles in football and men’s basketball — not to mention the disappointing end to the women’s basketball season — it’s easy to get lost in the negatives that seems to surround major sports on the UC Davis campus.

Maybe it is fitting, in this sense, that the Aggies’ most likely title contenders never play on the campus at all.

After taking its third straight Big West Conference title last week, the UC Davis Women’s Golf team is setting its sights on yet another NCAA Regional appearance — and if a few things fall in their favor, a spot in the NCAA Championship Tournament.

With a team ranked 22nd in the nation, it is easy to say that the Aggies are a long-shot at best, and to be fair, they are by no means favorites to take home hardware in upcoming weeks.

But if you’re counting the Aggies out, you better think again. UC Davis has a team of gamers — golfers that step up in big moments to shoot impressive scores.

Take freshman Beverly Vatananugulkit, who took the Big West title this season. The Cerritos, Calif. native faced off against seniors in the final day of the biggest tournament of her life (so far) and she stepped up to birdie the final two holes to put the tournament out of reach.

Possibly even more impressive, according to head coach Anne Walker, Vatananugulkit kept herself loose the entire time.

And while the Aggies are led by a several young golfers, and the team doesn’t feature a single senior, UC Davis is far from lacking experience.

Juniors Amy Simanton and Demi Runas may not have a full three years of collegiate golf under their belts, but in the two full seasons they’ve played the two have gotten more experience than most collegiate golfers get in a career.

The duo has experience in NCAA Regionals, and they both learned about UC Davis golf from some of the universities all-time greats: Chelsea Stelzmiller, Lauren Dobashi (both of whom graduated in 2010) and Alice Kim (who graduated last season). With Dobashi still on the coaching staff and the influence of Stelzmiller and Kim still clearly felt, Simanton and Runas have the ability to play like seasoned veterans despite their lack of official experience.

And yet it’s that lack of official experience that makes this team so impressive. The Aggies will return their entire team next season (I’ll take a moment for you to think about that).

That means that even if UC Davis doesn’t make a serious title run this season, there is a whole additional year for the Aggies to make their move.

And with an extra year of experience for sophomore Jessica Chulya, along with Vatananugulkit and fellow freshman Blair Lewis, next year’s team has the potential to be the strongest in school history.

While the players are certainly doing their part to ensure that UC Davis has one of the premiere women’s golf programs in the nation, as with all collegiate sports, the success begins with the head coach.

UC Davis Walker has created a culture of winning around the Aggie program. Most impressively, however, she has done it in her first ever head-coaching position and in just her fourth year as top-brass at UC Davis.

When she talks about bringing fresh talent into the UC Davis team she makes it sound so simple.

But in reality few tasks could be more difficult — especially when you consider that national powerhouses like California, UCLA, USC and Stanford all play in the same state.

Still, Walker continues to put a team on the course that can compete with the best of them, despite the fact that she will probably never get the credit that she deserves due to the fact that her team competes off campus.

But even with the lack of credit, if you’re betting on the next UC Davis team to win a national title, my advice would be you can’t go wrong with Aggie women’s golf.

TREVOR CRAMER can be reached at sports@theaggie.org.


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