College golf is just a few short weeks away. To get you ready, Asher Wildman is breaking down the top 60 men’s and women’s teams from last year’s Golfweek/Sagarin rankings. Today, it’s Nos. 16 on the board with the Southern Cal men and Michigan State women.
2010-11 final ranking: 16
Coach: Chris Zambri (sixth year)
Top returnees: Jeffrey Kang, Steve Lim, Martin Trainer
Top newcomers: Freshman Anthony Paolucci of Del Mar, Calif., freshman Daniel Lee of Valencia, Calif.
Projected starting 5: Jeffrey Kang (So.), Anthony Paolucci (Fr.), Steve Lim (Sr.), Martin Trainer (Jr.), Sam Smith (Jr.)
Key losses: T.J. Vogel (transferred to Florida)
Key fall tournament: U.S. Collegiate
2010-11 recap: At times, USC looked like a team that could contend for a national championship but at other times struggled. The Trojans won an extremely competitive Pac-10 Championship last year, as well as the ASU Thunderbird Invitational. However, they finished 15th last fall at the Ping/Golfweek Preview and tied for 12th at the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters in the spring.
“I thought we were a talented team that didn’t play all that well,” coach Chris Zambri said. “We were very sporadic in the fall, but by the end of the year we were pretty darn good.” After winning the conference title, USC continued to excel with a runner-up finish at NCAA regionals. At the NCAA finals, however, only one Trojan placed in the top 20 individually en route to a T-12 team finish.
Player to watch: Sam Smith. Said Zambri: “Sam is a super physically gifted player who swings it really nicely (and has) good feel and touch around the greens. He’s made huge strides in dealing with the non-physical side of the game.”
2011-12 preview: USC already had a strong nucleus of returnees, but the arrival of big-name recruit Anthony Paolucci should take the Trojans up a notch – or two. “You always want kids who can step in the lineup and be All-Americans,” Zambri said. “He could come in and be an All-American, but he has to do what everyone does when they go to college – prove it.”
Paolucci joins a team that had three top-100 players from a year ago. Steve Lim, Martin Trainer and Jeffrey Kang are solid players, but none of them have proven yet to be a standout No. 1 for the Trojans. Zambri, however, believes at least one member of that trio is ready to break out.
“Jeffrey Kang looks like he’s poised for a big year,” Zambri said. “When you look at UCLA, they have (Patrick) Cantlay, which means they can win tournaments; we need that guy who can help us win.”
Last year’s No. 4 starter, T.J. Vogel, transferred to Florida, but USC has the talent and depth on the roster to replace him. Zambri thinks he has eight strong players, and he says this is the first season in which he is not sure who will emerge from a qualifier for a starting spot.
Bottom line: USC has lots of talent. Last year, the Trojans didn’t have a steady No. 1 they could rely on each week. This year, Anthony Paolucci could be that guy. If the incoming freshman is as good as advertised and becomes a top-25 force for the Trojans, expect to see USC win a few tournaments and compete for a national title.
MICHIGAN STATE WOMEN
2010-11 final ranking: 16
Coach: Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll (15th year)
Top returnees: Caroline Powers, Lindsey Solberg
Top newcomers: Freshman Jenny Sritragul of Thailand
Projected starting 5: Caroline Powers (Jr.), Lindsey Solberg (Sr.), Allyssa Ferrell (So.), Christine Meier (So.), Jenny Sritragul (Fr.)
Key losses: Aimee Neff
Key fall tournament: Lady Tar Heel Invitational
2010-11 recap: The Spartans’ season was filled with both joy and disappointment. After playing consistently for most of the year, Michigan State played exceptionally well in their last two events of the regular season, winning the Lady Buckeye Invitational and denying Purdue of a fourth consecutive Big Ten title. Heading into the postseason with confidence and a winning streak didn’t guarantee Michigan State a trip to the NCAA Championship, though. The Spartans played in the NCAA East Regionals, and left dejected after a frustrating 11th-place finish ended their season.
“Being Big Ten champions is a wonderful accomplishment,” Slobodnik-Stoll said. “We had a lot of disappointment (from) not making it to nationals, though.”
Player to watch: Caroline Powers. Said Slobodnik-Stoll: “She is hands-down the best player we have ever had at Michigan State. She has broken just about every record here and continues to get better. I’m glad we have her for two more years, and she will be an awesome leader for us.”
2011-12 preview: The Spartans starts this season with redemption on their minds. Last year, Michigan State had too much talent not to make it out of regionals. “Our goals consistently are to be in the top 20 and win a Big Ten title,” Slobodnik-Stoll said. “I think our expectations are to be top 10 at nationals as well.”
For Michigan State to make a postseason run, it will need continued success from Powers, a junior who finished last season at No. 22 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. Last year, Powers was the team’s top finisher at nine tournaments, posting top 20s in all but two events, and she won the Lady Buckeye Invitational. Powers tied for sixth at NCAA regionals, advancing as an individual to the NCAA Championship, where she also tied for sixth.
Slobodnik-Stoll is hoping that senior Lindsey Solberg also can continue to progress from her strong finish a year ago. Solberg had an up-and-down fall, but closed out the spring with a T-11 at the Lady Buckeye and a fifth place at the Big Ten Championship. “She’s getting comfortable shooting around par every round now,” Slobodnik-Stoll said. “She’s capable of being a top contributor for us and will be our only senior this year.”
Bottom line: The Spartans have a sour taste in their mouths after the way last season ended. Caroline Powers is one of the best players in college golf. What Michigan State needs to do this year is find serviceable players at the Nos. 4 and 5 positions. Liz Nagel is one player Slobodnik-Stoll hopes can step up her game. She’s a long hitter who has improved each year but needs to consistently earn a spot in the lineup. The Spartans again will contend for the Big Ten title and are simply too good to miss nationals in back-to-back seasons.