2006: Green Wave breaks apart

Sue Bower found herself stuck in traffic to start the New Year, a sign of life for an ailing New Orleans. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Bower’s once-blossoming Tulane program.

The university’s board of trustees voted in December to cut eight athletic programs in an effort to offset the $200 million in recovery costs the private institution faces, and men’s and women’s golf was among the casualties. Men’s track, men’s and women’s tennis, women’s swimming, women’s soccer and men’s cross country also were eliminated.

“They didn’t just pick on the women’s golf team, they gutted departments,” said Bower, referring to the 200-plus faculty members who lost their jobs in the $100 million budget cut.

The NCAA gave Tulane players an option of competing this spring or accepting a redshirt year. Men’s coach Tom Shaw is fairly certain he’ll be able to field a team of five this spring, but Bower knows the women’s program has effectively come to a close as most of her team chose to either immediately transfer or redshirt. The veteran coach already has 14 garbage bags filled with memories stockpiled in her second-floor office.

“Calling coaches like I did at the beginning of the week and canceling our schedule pains me,” said Bower. “I didn’t realize walking down the fairway at the Hooters Match Play (last November) could be my last time coaching.”

The Tulane women’s team advanced to the NCAA Championship for the first time in school history last May and finished last fall 27th in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. The men are No. 126.

Green Wave veterans Alison Walshe, Liliana Alvarez and Mary Ellen Jacobs will return to New Orleans this semester to complete classes and decide where to go next. Walshe, a junior from Westford, Mass., started her career at Boston College before trading snow for sunshine.

After one successful season in New Orleans, Walshe joined her teammates on SMU’s campus in Dallas in the wake of Katrina. Now she’ll pack her bags again.

“I’m probably going to take five visits because I really don’t have a gut instinct right now,” said Walshe, who has upcoming appointments with Arizona and Arizona State. “I’m kind of all over the place.”

Junior Anne Desfilis will brave the elements in Hurricane Alley this spring at the University of Miami, forgoing the redshirt option. Kasi Lee, a freshman from Paramus, N.J., has narrowed her choices for the spring to Tulsa, UNLV and Fresno State, while freshman Ashley Tait plans to spend the next few months at a community college in Colorado before making a decision.

On the men’s side, Kyle Ritchie will transfer this spring to the University of Memphis and compete next fall, while Michael Thompson plans to redshirt and stick around New Orleans. Heavyweights

such as Oklahoma State and Florida already have shown interest in the up-and-coming junior.

Without Thompson and Ritchie, Shaw is left with a group of freshmen and sophomores who are low on experience but high on fervor. Shaw’s underclassmen head into their spring schedule at Tulane with one goal in mind – to get noticed.

“There’s going to be no time when I can question their commitment or enthusiasm,” Shaw said. “Our scores are going to be pretty volatile I think, but they’re going to get better and better. . . . Like your own children, you don’t want to see them end up with just anybody.”

Once his remaining players have found a new school to call home, Shaw will turn his efforts toward finding a new coaching position.

Bower, however, isn’t so sure about her next move. The 14-year Tulane coach hasn’t ruled out a return to coaching, but is eager to spend more time helping her 9-year-old son, Will, memorize his lines for the lead role of Peter Pan in an upcoming school play.

“The more efficiently I can help my players the more at peace I’ll be, and then I’ll worry about the Bower piece of the puzzle,” she said. “I’m going to be just like the typical high school junior or senior . . . keep my options open.”

That’s something everyone at Tulane has had to do the past few months.

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