It was only a matter of time before Arizona State, playing this spring with a revamped squad, won again. The Sun Devils picked up their first full-field win at the Dr. Donnis Thompson Invitational on March 15 while keeping the theme of their season alive and well: Resilience.
The Arizona State roster now boasts five players who arrived in Tempe, Ariz., in January to join veterans Giulia Molinaro and Carlota Ciganda, both juniors. The duo competed as individuals in the fall after the rest of the squad graduated or left to chase pro careers.
Arizona State’s win at the Donnis, over a field that included programs like Arizona (No. 10 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings) and Notre Dame (No. 24) was a giant leap in the right direction. The victory was sandwiched between wins in triangular meets that are helping Arizona State fill its spring schedule. The Sun Devils must play eight contests this season to make themselves eligible for NCAA postseason.
“We just kind of crammed it all in one semester and we’re busy, and it’s hectic and it’s crazy and I think the girls are handling it extremely well,” head coach Melissa Luellen said. “They’re a real competitive bunch.”
Luellen went about adding tournament days strategically, pulling tricks such as planning last week’s trip to Hawaii around spring break and adding a local triangular. Luellen added four competition days without asking her players to miss any additional classes. It speaks volumes for her coaching savvy.
“Being creative with the help of some other coaches gets those competition days in,” she said. “Really, I’m very grateful for my coaching friendships.”
Also key in Arizona State’s success are Ciganda and Molinaro, players who lead by example rather than by sheer volume. Ciganda won the fifth individual title of her career at the Donnis despite forgetting her sand wedge and borrowing a replacement from a Cleveland demo tent on the range during the practice round. Ciganda also battled sickness in Hawaii, and found out she had mono upon returning home. She will sit out of the Sun Devils’ next start in San Diego.
There is light at the end of the tunnel for this jet-lagged but determined squad, as Arizona State hosts its own tournament at the beginning of April and also gets to stay at home for Pac-10 Championship the following week.
“It’s not like we’re dreading it, we actually can’t wait to go and start playing again,” said Molinaro the day the team arrived home from Hawaii and began to pack for San Diego.
Molinaro was a freshman when this Arizona State team won the NCAA Championship in 2009. All hope is not lost that it could happen again before she leaves Tempe. Already, the Sun Devils have beat the odds.
“No one really expected us to do anything – to win a tournament or to have played well in other tournaments like we did in the first two,” Molinaro said. “It’s very exciting. I’m very happy.”
• • •
Playing for a cause: For the Yale women’s golf team, cancer is a cause that hits close to home. The team spent its St. Patrick’s day in a golf simulator for “100 holes for Mandi,” a fundraiser for Mandi Schwartz, a fellow Yale athlete battling acute myeloid leukemia.
Schwartz, a 23-year-old women’s ice hockey player, was diagnosed with the disease more than two years ago. She underwent a stem cell transplant in September, but a biopsy in December indicated a relapse. She has returned home to her family.
“Our team is always looking for ways to help others, and in this case we had the chance to help a fellow Bulldog,” head coach Chawwadee Rompothong said. “In addition to raising funds for Mandi and her family, we hope that this event raises awareness of the need for bone marrow donors and umbilical cord blood donors, and inspires others to find ways that they can help.”
By the end of the day, the Yale women had logged 144 holes and raised more than $2,000. They chose to stage the event on March 17 because Schwartz’s jersey bore the number 17.
Yale is No. 69 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.
• • •
Five questions with Cal junior Emily Childs, who has racked up three individual titles this season (Edean Ihlanfeldt Invitational, Peg Barnard Invitational and Juli Inkster Spartan Invitational):
1.) How do your three victories this season compare?
I think that the best one would probably be in the fall, I won in Washington (Edean Ihlanfeldt). There was a really strong field there and it was a three-day tournament so it was a little bit tougher where Stanford and San Jose, those were more two-day tournaments. I played really well there.
2.) What part of your game right now is allowing you to consistently contend in and win tournaments?
I’d have to say my ball-striking. I’ve been hitting it really well. Most of my drives are in the fairway and I’m hitting a lot of greens and when I don’t hit well I can rely on my putting.
3.) You’re originally from the Bay Area and transferred from Colorado back to California last year. What do you like about that area?
Being from Northern California, being able to play golf every day it’s something you kind of take for granted. Going away to school and going to Colorado, once the snow hit it just got too cold for me and I wasn’t really able to play as much golf as I wanted to.
4.) Your team is close with the Cal men’s team. Do you have any recurring grudge matches?
We don’t usually have team practices at the same time but on the weekends we’ll go out. We practice at the same facility. We’ll go out and they’ll be out there and a lot of times they’ll say, ‘Hey, let’s play a putting contest or up-and-down right now.’ We play for just pride so we have a lot of competitions in that way, we’re really competitive. They’re fun guys.
5.) The Pac-10 championship and regional action is around the corner. Do you think the team is ready?
I definitely think we’re ready. I guess you could say the last couple tournaments have not been as strong a field as going into the Pac-10 and bigger tournaments, but I think we’re ready. We’ve really been practicing hard and working on the things we need to work on and our main goal is just improving every day so we’re not really comparing ourselves to other teams in that way. We’re just trying to do the best we can and I think by doing that, we can compete with them.
• • •
A look ahead…
What: Battle at Rancho Bernardo
When: March 20-22
Where: Rancho Bernardo Inn Championship Golf Course, San Diego
Why it’s important: Pac-10 powers USC (No. 1), UCLA (No. 2), California (No. 4), Arizona State (No. 9) and Arizona (No. 10) all are in the field in San Diego, which creates a handful of storylines. A win for either Arizona State or California would keep the ball rolling for the programs. UCLA and USC are a close one-two atop the rankings, and a mid-season head-to-head battle could amount to some postseason foreshadowing.
Also don’t overlook Purdue or Pepperdine, two other top-15 teams.