College Women

Women's preview: Big West Conference

Demi Runas
Demi Runas ( Tracy Wilcox )

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The UC Davis team that this fall bookended its season with tournament wins looks nothing like the Aggie squad of five years ago. The talent is deeper, the roster younger and the schedule vastly more difficult.

The transformation hasn’t been easy or quick.

“It’s what the players have done, the players on this team but also the players before them,” head coach Anne Walker explained. “They’ve continued to play well, and when they’ve been given opportunities to play in a good event they’ve fared well and finished high up the roster. That starts to get noticed. You’ve become a team that people want in their event.”

UC Davis won its season opener (the Ptarmigan Ram Classic) for the first time this fall behind the solid play of junior leader Demi Runas. Four events later, sophomore Jessica Chulya led the team to another victory at the Las Vegas Collegiate Showdown. A different player led the team in each of the three tournaments in between, including freshmen Beverly Vatananugulkit and Blair Lewis.

“Any time one of your freshmen leads the way for you, it’s a good thing because it usually means the future is pretty bright,” Walker said.

There are no seniors on the Aggie roster, which makes Runas, a quarterfinalist at the 2011 U.S. Women’s Amateur, the most experienced player on the team. At No. 55 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, she also carries the highest ranking in the Big West. UC Davis is far and away the most talented school in the conference, but Walker knows getting through regionals isn’t as easy as it used to be.

UC Davis made its second appearance at the NCAA Championship last spring, finishing 20th of 24 teams. This year the Aggies end the regular season with starts at the Ping/ASU Invitational and Pacific Coast Intercollegiate (the Aggies are co-hosting the latter with Oregon).

That home stretch almost makes the postseason look easy.

• • •

Top of the class: UC Davis

Best player in the fall: Demi Runas, UC Davis

• • •

Past champions

2007: UC Irvine

2008: UC Irvine

2009: Long Beach State

2010: UC Davis

2011: UC Davis

• • •

Conference capsules

UC Davis (Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: No. 18)

Two wins for the Aggies in the fall, and they contended down to the last second at the Golfweek Conference Challenge, too. This team is capable of winning a regional, and finishing at least in the top 10 at the national championship.

Long Beach St. (No. 65)

Won the Rose City Collegiate for its best fall finish. This is a strong roster of California girls, but they’ll need to maintain a high ranking to get into postseason -- this team is unlikely to beat UC Davis at the conference championship.

UC Irvine (No. 84)

In four fall starts, four different players were low for the Anteaters, that shows promise for a team with only one senior. A heavy West Coast schedule should bode well for Irvine in the spring.

Cal State Fullerton (No. 115)

Won the Firestone Grill Invitational, but finishing fifth as a team at the Rose City Collegiate also is noteworthy because of strength of field. Of interest: Taylor Fowler was a solid contributor for this fall -- and yes, that’s Rickie’s little sis.

Cal State Northridge (No. 118)

Finished in the top 5 in all four fall events, but only traveled out of state once (to Idaho). The Bruin Wave Invitational -- the Matadors’ second event of the spring -- should be an excellent litmus test.

Cal Poly (No. 142)

Fared well in fall events (second, third, fourth) but played in small fields. Sophomore Asia Adell leads this team.

UC Riverside (No. 160)

Finished 17th of 22 at its season opener, the Circling Raven Invitational, but improved from there with three sixth-place finishes.

Conference championship

April 21-25, San Luis Obispo (Calif.) CC

Lance Ringler's prediction

UC Davis. Very little competition this year in the Big West for UC Davis. The Aggies will cruise to it's third consecutive Big West title.

• • •

Complete coverage

Wondering how your favorite conference is shaping up headed into the spring season? Who is our favorite to pick up the automatic qualifier? Check out our conference-by-conference break down with our complete coverage page here.

• • •

Going social with Golfweek

Want to follow our college gurus on Twitter? Here are some quick links:

• You can follow blogger Asher Wildman here

• You can find Lance Ringler's college Twitter feed here

• Follow women's college golf with Julie Williams here

• And follow all of college golf on Facebook by clicking here readers: We value your input and welcome your comments, but please be respectful in this forum.