With the women’s college golf season starting in earnest next week, our panel of experts – Julie Williams, Beth Ann Baldry and Lance Ringler – took a few moments to offer a trio of predictions for the fall season as Alabama sets out to try and defend its NCAA Championship.
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1. Who will finish the fall season at No. 1?
• BETH ANN BALDRY: Alabama. The Tide will pick up where they left off. Frosh Emma Talley will make an immediate impact in the lineup and Stephanie Meadow will have her best season yet. Mic Potter, one of the best coaches in the country, will have his team looking forward.
• JULIE WILLIAMS: It’s hard to bet against Alabama, back from its first NCAA Championship in program history. This team features a squad of level-headed players, so having a national championship under their belts likely will help the Crimson Tide more than get in their heads. Expect UCLA to win its fair share of tournaments, too.
• LANCE RINGLER: The fall season will be somewhat incomplete or inaccurate because many of the top teams are playing reduced schedules due to conflicts with the World Team Amateur and LPGA Qualifying School. That being said, Alabama should be the top team this fall. The Tide return four of their five players from last year’s NCAA title team and a pair of top newcomers. There is little doubt they will be the favorite this season.
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2. What team will surprise the most in the fall?
• BETH ANN BALDRY: Northwestern. Nicole Zhang is back after taking a year off and looked solid at the U.S. Women’s Amateur. The Notre Dame transfer will take this team to new heights.
• JULIE WILLIAMS: The top four teams at last season’s NCAA Championship made a lot of noise coming down the stretch. And then there was South Carolina – quietly in at No. 5 while hardly anybody noticed. Two top players – Katie Burnett and Amanda Strang – are gone from that team, but the Gamecocks get an infusion of new talent this season in the form of five freshmen. The real trick should be figuring out how to translate postseason success to the regular season. South Carolina has won the East Regional two of the past three years but hasn’t had a regular-season victory since October 2005 (Chrysler Invitational).
• LANCE RINGLER: A team from the Big Ten. Either Purdue or Northwestern. The Boilermakers because they return four of their top five from a team last year that was in a good position heading into the final round at the NCAA Championship, only to stumble on the back nine and place ninth. Northwestern added a transfer from Notre Dame in Nicole Zhang, who was ranked 47th two years ago and will make the Wildcats better. Northwestern also added a couple of newcomers in Suchaya Tangkamolprasert of Thailand and Kaitlin Park from Tustlin, Calif., who should step right in and contribute.
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3. What player is the one to watch?
• BETH ANN BALDRY: Given Lindy Duncan’s overall consistency, it’s hard to bet against her. She’s a serious player, committed making to improvements. Look for Duncan to rewrite Duke’s record books (the ones she hasn’t already broken).
• JULIE WILLIAMS: Duke senior Lindy Duncan aside (the girl never finished outside the top 8 last season and won four times), keep a close eye on UCLA sophomore Erynne Lee. She won once during her freshman campaign and led the top-ranked team in the nation in scoring. If last season was about getting her feet wet, then she could certainly find her way to the top of many more leaderboards as a sophomore. Also of interest is reigning NCAA individual champion and Oklahoma junior Chirapat Jao-Javanil. She finished last season at No. 30 in Golfweek’ rankings, and had two wins before the postseason. She can’t fly under the radar anymore, but she is not a player who gets rattled, so the increased spotlight shouldn’t bother her a bit.
• LANCE RINGLER: Of course, Duke’s Lindy Duncan and Alabama’s Stephanie Meadow will be up there, but I am watching another player: South Florida junior Christina Miller. Miller finished her sophomore season with two victories and seven top-5 finishes in 10 starts. Miller, who finished the year ranked No. 60 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, is very athletic and a powerful player with the potential to make a much bigger splash this year.