2006: Emily Hoeper - Denver eyes spring dance

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Emily Hoeper is trying not to get too excited. You can hear it in her voice. The Denver senior knows that this is her last chance to get to the Big Dance. But she has too much veteran moxie to let her enthusiasm out. Even if her Pioneers recently completed the best fall season in the program’s history.

Beginning at the season-opening Oregon State Invitational and ending at the San Diego State Aztec a month later, Denver reeled off four consecutive victories in as many tournaments.

But that’s where talk about the fall ends, and anticipation for the spring begins.

“I feel the pressure, but I also have faith in this team that we’ll get to nationals,” said Hoeper, No. 41 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. “I don’t think that’s too unrealistic.”

Hoeper is cautiously optimistic. One year ago, the Pioneers had another successful fall, winning their own Ron Moore Intercollegiate followed by a victory at the Heather Farr Memorial. But the good vibes didn’t carry into the spring. The Pioneers came out flat in their first event back, finishing 10th at the Miccosukee Championship. In the next three events, Denver didn’t place higher than seventh. The downward spiral culminated with a 15th-place finish at the NCAA West Regional.

“It would be nice if regionals were next week,” coach Sammie Chergo said.

In the nine years since she built the Denver program from scratch, Chergo never has taken her squad to the NCAA Championship. But with confidence at a Rocky Mountain high, this season has a different feel. Hoeper has provided leadership, and freshman Stephanie Sherlock has added a needed spark to the Pioneer lineup.

“Everyone has to look after me,” said 24th-ranked Sherlock. “They call me the baby.”

Though she has lost her cell phone and numerous articles of clothing while traveling with the team, no one has to keep tabs on Sherlock on the golf course.

The 19-year-old from Barrie, Ontario, took medalist honors at Oregon State – her first college tournament – and tied Hoeper for the individual title in San Diego.

“She’s blended in quite well,” Chergo said. “She has one of the best short games I’ve seen. She’s got great touch. And she loves golf. She would play every day. When she’s not in class, she’s at the golf course.”

Behind Hoeper and Sherlock, a mature flock of sophomores led by Dawn Shockley and Katie Kempter also understands the urgency. Instead of taking an extended holiday break, Hoeper and Kempter are planning to stay sharp at the Silver Belle Championship in December, while the rest of the Pioneers already are in offseason training programs.

“Everyone has the desire this year and doesn’t want to see it go down in the spring like last season,” said Hoeper, owner of nearly every individual record at Denver.

If there is one knock against the Pioneers, it’s that they’ve played only two top-25 teams this fall. Word has been passed to players that their No. 12 spot in Golfweek’s rankings isn’t legit, that their strength of schedule is not deserving of such an elite spot. Denver hopes to silence those critics when teeing it up against stiff competition at the Texas A&M Invitational in March and the Stanford Collegiate in April.

“A lot of people think it’s a big fluke and they don’t think we can play,” Sherlock said. “But I think they’ll be surprised come this spring.”

One person who won’t be surprised if the Pioneers reach the NCAA Championship is Hoeper.

“It’s definitely in the back of my mind all the time.” Hoeper said. “I expect us to go to nationals. And I think we’re more motivated this time.”

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