A look at the 18 teams participating in this year’s Golfweek Conference Challenge, which begins Monday at Red Sky Golf Club’s Fazio Course in Wolcott, Colo.
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Conference: West Coast
Coach: Laurie Gibbs
Final 2012-13 Golfweek rank: 26
The scoop: The defending champions, and the only two-time victor in the four-year history of the event. As a lead-up to the Conference Challenge, Pepperdine won the Branch Law Firm/Dick McGuire Invitational in New Mexico on Saturday. The Wave finished ninth at that event last season, which shows Gibbs’ young team (it’s the same fivesome that won here last year) has matured. Keep an eye on Grace Na, Golfweek’s preseason No. 10 individual, throughout the week. She was fifth at the Branch Law.
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Conference: Big West
Coach: Anna Temple
Final 2012-13 Golfweek rank: 31
The scoop: Also playing the Conference Challenge days after the Branch Law, where UC Davis finished fifth. The Aggies suffered a big loss with the graduation of Demi Runas, last year’s individual champion at Red Sky. Temple has experience, however, in senior Jessica Chulya and juniors Blair Lewis and Bev Vatananugulkit. Betty Chen was the low Aggie in New Mexico with a T-7. UC Davis should contend again this year – players have acclimated well to the course in the past.
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Conference: Big 12
Coach: Angie Ravaioli-Larkin
Final 2012-13 Golfweek rank: 40
The scoop: The Horned Frogs will be looking to build on an an eighth-place finish in 2011, the last time they competed in this event. Last year’s leading scorer Sanna Nuutinen returns as a senior but junior Alexandra Bonetti, low Frog in five consecutive events last season, won’t be in the lineup. Other bright spots include Kortnie Maxoutopoulis and April McCoy, a native Texan who won last year’s Windy City Collegiate.
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Conference: Summit League
Coach: Lindsay Kuhle
Final 2012-13 Golfweek rank: 44
The scoop: In the past three years at this event, Denver has finished seventh, seventh and fifth. Attribute a lot of that to home advantage, but don’t discount the talent. Norway’s Tonje Daffinrud has adjusted well to stateside golf (finished last season ranked No. 37 by Golfweek) and Maryland product Elyse Smidinger, who was third in scoring last season as a freshman. This season, Isabel Southard, a transfer from Boston College, joins the Pios.
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San Jose State
Conference: Mountain West
Coach: John Dormann
Final 2012-13 Golfweek rank: 58
The scoop: The Spartans were the biggest story of the first round of last year’s national championship as they tied eventual champion USC for first place through 18 holes. Only two members of that squad are part of the Spartans’ Red Sky lineup: Megan Osland and Rachelle Reali. San Jose State will miss Regan De Guzman, a redshirt sophomore from the Philippines. The team finished 12th at the Ptarmigan Ram Classic on Sept. 10 without her.
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Conference: Conference USA
Coach: Joe Vogel
Final 2012-13 Golfweek rank: 60
The scoop: A fitting start for Florida International’s first season in Conference USA. The squad will get leadership from sophomore Meghan MacLaren, last year’s Sun Belt Player of the Year, and senior Shelby Coyle, who will return as the second leading scorer. Florida International won four times last season, including the Sun Belt Conference Championship.
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East Tennessee State
Conference: Atlantic Sun
Coach: Stefanie Shelton
Final 2012-13 Golfweek rank: 68
The scoop: The season began with a sixth-place finish at the Mary Fossum. The Bucs climbed to sixth in the final round of that event, posting the best team score of the day during a chilly third round. Shelton will start a solid core of returners in Red Sky, including senior Sian Evans, junior Gabrielle Wahl and sophomore Vivienne Chin, all of whom finished inside the top 10 at last year’s A-Sun Championship. East Tennessee earned a top-10 in this event a year ago.
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Conference: Big 10
Coach: Clint Wallman
Final 2012-13 Golfweek rank: 81
The scoop: Junior Elizabeth Tong should carry this team in the absence of graduate student Kristen Schelling, who challenged Tong last season for the No. 1 spot. They led the team in scoring. Freshman Ana Sanjuan seems to have filled Schelling’s shoes, however, by posting the low score in each of Indiana’s two events so far this season Indiana must come out of the gate more efficiently in the Conference Challenge than at the Mary Fossum. Indiana opened with 30-over 318 and never could climb back into contention. The team finished 11th, but can play better than that.
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Conference: Ivy League
Coach: Kevin Rhoads
Final 2012-13 Golfweek rank: 92
The scoop: Arrives in Colorado after beating the host school at the Princeton Invitational. Harvard won by a 12-shot margin, thanks in large part to the performance of junior Tiffany Lim. A first-round 6-under 66 from Lim guided her to the top of the individual leaderboard, and left her three ahead of Columbia’s Michelle Piyapattra after 54 holes. Harvard’s Anne Cheng (T-4) and Christine Lin (T-7) also finished inside the top 10. All three will tee it up at Red Sky, in addition to Courtney Hooten and Bonnie Wu. The key will be in acclimating to a change of climate and altitude.
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Conference: Sun Belt
Coach: Bridgett Norwood
Final 2012-13 Golfweek rank: 95
The scoop: In its season opener, the Chris Banister Golf Classic in Glencoe, Ala., Arkansas-Little Rock finished runner-up. Two Swedes and a Norwegian led the way in that event, and all three will return to Red Sky. Junior Sofia Berglund finished in the top 5 in Glencoe, while Sofie Kvarnstrom and Stina Resen (both newcomers to the Trojan roster) were also inside the top 10.
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Coach: Paul Gooden
Final 2012-13 Golfweek rank: 97
The scoop: James Madison’s first start of the year came a week ago at the Golfweek Program Challenge in Myrtle Beach. The Dukes slipped from second to third with a final-round 13-over 297. Senior Ginger Mak led the team with a tie for runner-up honors, which is no surprise for last year’s leading scorer. Other bright spots on the Duke roster include Maria Andrea, Legaspi, Karishma Thiagaraj and Shabril Brewer, all returners from last season.
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Conference: American Athletic
Coach: Jeanne Sutherland
Final 2012-13 Golfweek rank: 108
The scoop: Sutherland’s knowledge of the Vail Valley is extensive after doing two stints at nearby Vail Golf Club in the past 25 years. The Mustangs should have a leg up in creating their yardage books, but should perform well for more reasons than that. SMU looked to be a team on the rise last spring as it won the Central District Invitational then finished second at the Clover Cup to start the spring. That run fell flat as the spring wore on, but Sutherland is a knowledgeable coach and has talent in the team room. Keep an eye on Jenny Haglund and Alexandra Rossi this week.
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Coach: Drew Kayser
Final 2012-13 Golfweek rank: 123
The scoop: Cristina McQuiston and Katia Joo are Kayser’s experienced players, and the Eagles will miss transfer Isabel Southard (playing this week for TCU). McQuiston, however, set a new 54-hole school record of 5-over 218 at the Golfweek Program Challenge earlier this month. Freshman Christina Wang has acclimated well (she posted the team’s third-best score at the Program Challenge) and Boston College seems to be moving in the right direction for the season.
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Conference: Ohio Valley
Coach: Stephanie Barker
Final 2012-13 Golfweek rank: 124
The scoop: The Eagles are on the upswing after opening the season with victory at the William & Mary Invitational. Morehead State won that event by a commanding 17 shots. Two players (Appert Lund and Linnea Scholin) posted career-low 54 hole totals and Lund was runner-up at the event. It’s the second time in two events this season that she’s finished second (also at the four-team Kentucky Regional Rivalry on Sept. 3). Such perfomances breed confidence.
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Conference: Missouri Valley
Coach: Darby Sligh
Final 2012-13 Golfweek rank: 133
The scoop: Illinois State looks a little different this season without standout Katie Jean. She was a staple in Illinois State’s lineup for the past three years before graduating in the spring, but Sligh will bring a fivesome of upperclassmen to contend for the title at Red Sky. Among those, senior Rachel Powers, who reliably challenged Jean for low Redbird honors last season.
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Coach: Katherine Mowat
Final 2012-13 Golfweek rank: 144
The scoop: Jenna Hague returns as Ball State’s leading scorer, and seemingly stronger than ever. She earned her fifth career victory Sept. 9 at the Redbird Invitational and matched the program scoring record of 1-under 215 for 54 holes. The next week, Hague finished sixth at the Cardinal Cup. The Ball State roster this week also includes three seniors (Sarah Westaway, Mary Welch, Meghan Perry) and a sophomore (Meghan McDougall).
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Conference: Big Sky
Coach: Brad Bedortha
Final 2012-13 Golfweek rank: 152
The scoop: Northern Arizona will open its season trying to absorb the graduation of Stephanie Kim, who played a major rol in last year’s successful season, which included two victories: the Rio Verde Invitational and the Big Sky Championship. Bedortha returns senior Kaitlen parsons and sophomore Savana Bezdicek, both of whom are in the field this week.
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Coach: Natasha Vincent
Final 2012-13 Golfweek rank: 161
The scoop: Central Arkansas enters the Conference Challenge on a high after finishing runner-up at the Chip-N Club Invitational on Sept. 10. The Bears counted top-5 finishes from junior Malin Senneryd and Sarah Brown, and only lost to host Nebraska. Vincent also brings two freshman, Elisa Axelson and Kendra Bishop, to Colorado. The team will look to build on an 18th-place finish in 2010.