2002: Explosive Auburn ‘here to win’

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Winning has been contagious the last couple of years for Auburn coach Kim Evans and her team. It wasn’t very long ago when goals were much different for the Tigers, who enter the 2002-03 college season ranked No. 1 by Golfweek.

“We know we’re going to win golf tournaments,” senior Danielle Downey said. “We know it’s going to happen. When I was a freshman, our goal was to break 300. Now we shoot 295, and we’re not happy – that’s a bad round.”

This year, Auburn’s focus will be on winning its last tournament – the NCAA Division I Women’s Championship – for the first time. Last season, Auburn never finished worse than second in 11 tournaments, and won four times.

However, the Tigers fell short in their bid to win the most important event, tying for second behind Duke at the NCAA Championship in Auburn, Wash. Auburn shot 298-300 the first two days and was 17 shots behind Arizona before a late surge vaulted it near the top of the leaderboard.

Four months later, the season-ending performance still doesn’t sit well with the feisty bunch, described by Evans as a “quite-explosive group” that is not afraid to take risks on the course.

“On the plane ride home (from the NCAAs), we kicked ourselves in the butt and said we need to focus next year and get ready to go,” said Downey, the team’s vocal leader. “We’re here to win. We know we have a great chance to win every golf tournament we enter. Not a lot of teams can say that.”

With the graduation of Courtney Swaim, last year’s team leader who is pursuing a professional career, Downey and fellow senior Celeste Troche will be key figures in the success of the Tigers. Troche and Downey, both 21, enter the season ranked third and sixth, respectively, by Golfweek.

Although neither individually won an event for Auburn last season, both played well at the NCAA Championship. Downey tied for second with three others behind Duke’s Virada Nirapathpongporn. Troche tied for 10th.

“Celeste and Danielle have been impact players since the day they stepped on campus,” said Evans, 43, who enters her ninth season as coach at her alma mater. “Celeste leads by example and with poise. Danielle leads by total competitiveness. If she’s on the last hole and she has a chance to win, she wants to know.”

Junior Diana Ramage and sophomore Kingsley Barrett also return from last year’s NCAA squad, and senior Anne Hutto should see playing time after a successful summer in which she won the Women’s Southern Amateur, a match-play event. Hutto saw action last fall when Ramage was sidelined by mononucleosis.

“I think we’re all going to be fighting for the top five,” Troche said. “Nobody is going to be there for sure. If you don’t watch your back, somebody else is going to play great and take your spot. I think that is good for everybody.”

A month ago, Maru Martinez was just another freshman with great potential. She enhanced her standing in August.

Martinez, a petite 18-year-old from Venezuela, showed she has the skills to crack the Auburn lineup when she advanced to the semifinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur. During her march to the final four, Martinez defeated former Georgia standout and U.S. Curtis Cup member Angela Jerman and Nirapathpongporn. Martinez was 3 up with three holes remaining in the semifinals against Brandi Jackson, but lost the next four holes and the match.

“I am very excited about going to Auburn – it’s a great team,” Martinez said. “It’s like a family, and I am sure I’m going to feel great there.”

Rounding out the team will be sophomore Meghan Ciampi and freshmen Jennifer Head and Jessica Lovell.

“It’s important for me to have a fun group,” Evans said. “It’s important for them to really enjoy their experience, and I think this group will do that. No. 1 is nice at first, but we’d trade it all for No. 1 in the end.” m

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