Feb. 19, 2007
The Washington women's golf team is poised to start the 2007 season right where it left off last spring - continuing to set new standards for a program that is on the rise.
Led by the best player to ever don purple and gold for Husky women's golf - Paige Mackenzie - Washington either set or matched school records with its regional and NCAA finishes last season. The Huskies set a UW best with a third-place finish at NCAA Regionals, before matching school best with a sixth-place finish at the NCAA Championships.
The fuel behind the Huskies' fire was the aforementioned Mackenzie, who capped her senior season in 2006 by winning both the Pac-10 and NCAA Regional individual titles before breaking her own school record with an eighth place finish at nationals.
While the Huskies certainly have the momentum set in motion by last year's success, the challenge ahead will be moving on without Mackenzie and the team's other graduated senior and All-American in her own right, Sung Ea Lee.
"At times this year I'm still looking around for Paige and Sung," 24th year head coach Mary Lou Mulflur said. "It's different. I think we'd all be lying if we said it wasn't. But at the same time, I think it's been a growth opportunity for this team."
Waiting in the wings to take over the all-important leadership role is senior Amber Prange. Dubbed by Mulflur as one of the most consistent performers she's had, Prange is no stranger to coming through in big tournaments - having played behind Mackenzie for three years and placing among the team's top-two finishers at eight events last year, including the Pac-10 Championships and NCAA Regionals.
"Amber has definitely stepped into that leadership role for us," Mulflur said. "She has done a great job so far this year with that. I think more so this spring people will be relying on her leadership. That's a lot of pressure, but I know Amber can handle that."
Joining Prange on the 2007 roster are seniors Ashley Bickerton and Amy Wang, junior Kim Shin, redshirt freshman Molly Boyle, and true freshmen Molly Aronsson and Christina Yoon. Even though there are three seniors on the roster, the team is still considered young with Shin being the only other returner besides Prange who was a regular in last year's lineup.
That inexperience was tested during the fall season and Mulflur tried a few different lineups in the four tournaments to see how the players adjusted. Although the team didn't have a strong fall showing, it allowed for these Huskies to see more time on the links and prepare for the spring.
"I would expect us to play much better this spring," Mulflur said. "I would be shocked if we don't play markedly better. Our goal is to get better every day with what we do. All you can do is focus on yourself and getting yourself better, being better prepared. We're working hard in the weight room getting more fit. It's all about us getting better, gaining confidence and feeling like we've got some momentum going into February when we go down to Arizona."
High on the list of team goals for the Huskies is to win a Pac-10 title. A first conference crown would be especially fitting in 2007 since Washington will play host to the event at Broadmoor Golf Club in Seattle - just minutes from the UW campus.
"We'd love to win our conference championship," Mulflur said. "We are hosting this year and you only get to do that once every 10 years. Very few players in their careers get to play their conference championships at home."
With winning championships certainly on the mind of Mulflur and the Huskies, the UW head coach is aware that she still has a very young team this season.
"In the back of your mind it's all about winning championships and that's not going to change," Mulflur said. "At the same time there is also that part of me that has to be realistic. But the thing about this group is they work really hard and they want to win. They are very competitive so I don't have to figure out ways to get them fired up to play and that's very nice for a coach not to worry about that piece of the puzzle."
Two of the team's strengths this year will be team chemistry and work ethic, as noted by Mulflur.
"There is a real camaraderie with this team and a competitiveness, but in a real healthy way," she said. "They are okay with getting beat, but boy you better watch out the next day because they are going to come back and try to beat you."
Among those top competitors will be Prange, a two-time All-Pac-10 honorable mention selection who enters her senior season with seven Top-10 finishes in her UW career. Prange finished behind only Mackenzie last year with a 75.82 stroke average.
"Amber has been steady, steady, steady," Mulflur said of her top player. "Her score always counts and that's what you need. When she plays she gives you a number that you can work with, so that's always a good thing."
Although it is too early for Mulflur to set a lineup yet for the spring season, Shin figures to be a regular, finishing the fall season behind Prange with a 77.50 stroke average playing in all four tournaments. Shin is a two-time competitor at Pac-10s, regionals and NCAAs and was an All-Pac-10 honorable mention selection as a freshman. "I'm confident that she will come in and have a good a spring for us," Mulflur said.
The other two returners are seniors Bickerton and Wang. Bickerton is a three-year letterwinner but didn't see any action in the fall. After a solid freshman season in which she competed in nine tournaments including NCAAs, Bickerton has played sparingly. Wang is another three-year letterwinner and set a career-best with a fourth-place finish at the Nittany Lion Invitational in the fall.
"Ashley struggled this year a little bit playing wise," Mulflur said. "But she has a heart of gold. Ashley is really a dynamic person and brings a care-free attitude in a positive way to the team. Amy is probably pound for pound one of the best players in the country and she's just a little tiny thing, but she's tough and she doesn't like to lose."
Not a newcomer to the team, but a newcomer to collegiate golf is redshirt freshman Boyle. She made her UW debut in the fall, playing in all four tournaments. Boyle tied for 26th at the Ihlanfeldt Invitational in her first career event and shot a season-best 15-over 231 at the Las Vegas Collegiate Showdown.
"Molly is probably one of the most pleasant outcomes we've had," Mulflur said. "Here is someone who wasn't highly recruited and she walked on here, knowing what she was getting into as far as having to make her own way. It has been impressive to watch her growth as a player and a person."
Aronsson and Yoon, the true freshmen, round out the Husky roster. Both bring outstanding credentials to Seattle and both notched top-10 finishes in their debuts in the fall at the Nittany Lion Invitational. Aronsson tied for sixth and Yoon tied for ninth.
Aronsson hails from Shelburne, Vt., and attended Rice Memorial High School. She was just a one-year letterwinner in high school golf, but won the state championship that season. Aronsson also played soccer, tennis and ice hockey before devoting all her time to golf at the collegiate level.
"Molly played hockey for years and she has a hockey player's mentality which I love," Mulflur said. "She is tough mentally and is as honest about herself as probably any player that I've ever had. She is not afraid of hard work, she just wants to play and wants to win."
Yoon comes to Seattle from Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada and was the runner-up at the 2006 Ontario Junior Championship. Yoon battled mono during the end of the fall quarter so it may take her some time to get back to full strength, but Mulflur is excited about her potential.
"Christina has a ton of talent," she said. "It took her a little longer to get into the lineup this fall, but I wanted to see what she would do and what she had in her. She's very hard on herself and she's really very competitive, and wants to do well."
With leadership, chemistry and work ethic in place, the 2007 Huskies are anxious for their season debut at the end of February. Although this Washington team might be young, it still has the talent and depth ready to carry on the precedence of success established by Husky squads before them.
And they just might have a few new trophies to add to Washington's ever growing collection when it is all said and done.