UC Davis grabs lead at Conference Challenge
WOLCOTT, Colo. – In a word, UC Davis is smooth. The Aggies cruised up the leaderboard Monday at the Golfweek Women’s Conference Challenge, capitalizing on a tough scoring day at Red Sky Golf Club to take a one-shot lead on Arizona.
Even as UC Davis players trickled in, the team remained cool and collected. Call it a sign of good leadership, as go-to seniors Alice Kim and Chelsea Stelzmiller exude cool on the golf course. Both put up rounds of even-par 72 Monday to lead the Aggie charge, and head coach Anne Walker wouldn’t expect it any other way.
UC Davis shot 6-over 294 in Round 2, moving to 11-over 587 for the tournament. Even though hole locations were generally more difficult Monday, Walker instructed her players to play cautiously.
“I’d say yesterday our short games were just really not good and that was the difference,” she said. “Today the plan was to go in and miss on the right side of the hole so you can make your up-and-down. And from what I saw, I saw a lot better up-and-downs.”
Last year Walker, now in her second season at the helm of UC Davis, led the team to its first win since 2007, effectively bringing the Aggies into the spotlight. She’s taking advantage of Kim and Stelzmiller this year before both leave to chase pro careers.
“Both of them have had good experiences amateur-wise, and they’re both pretty keen to do that one more summer. They just really like it and enjoy it,” Walker said. “I kind of appreciate that from both of those kids.”
Already, the legacy they will leave is obvious. After stepping off the course Monday with solid rounds safely on the scoreboard, each moved among her teammates with quiet fist bumps. Walker, not easily riled herself, already can see sophomores Demi Runas and Amy Simanton following in their footsteps.
“They just bring stability to the team; they just bring this confidence,” Walker said.
That confidence will be important in Tuesday’s final round as six teams are within six shots of the lead after scores rose across the board.
Arizona, the pre-tournament favorite, stayed in the game with an 8-over 296 to go to 12-over 588 for the tournament. The Wildcats have Alejandra Llaneza and Sherlyn Popelka to thank for that, as both players shot rounds of even-par 72. As head coach Laura Ianello noted, Popelka played the role of team hero Monday, battling a knee injury to go low on a day when usual low-scorers Margarita Ramos and Nikki Koller posted 78.
Take 5: Conference Challenge (Rd. 2)
“We struggled big time on the greens, had a lot of three putts,” Ianello said. “We just didn’t have it today.”
It was a similar story for first-round co-leaders Virginia and Tulane. Both teams struggled down the lineup on tough greens. Virginia is at 14-over 590, while Tulane is another shot back.
“The golf course was set up a little harder, little bit tougher conditions, and honestly we just played the course a little bit more defensively than we should have,” Tulane head coach J.T. Horton said. “We were playing for our misses instead of playing to hit certain spots that we normally play for.”
The Wave got a big boost from Janine Fellows’ 1-over 73, which left her in third place individually. Similarly, Virginia leaned on a 73 from Brittany Altomare, who is in second individually.
“She’s just a great ball-striker with a lot of confidence and just a great putter,” Lewellen said. “And these are conditions that set up for Brittany. She likes quick, fast greens, she likes pin placements that you have to think a little bit about where to place it.”
Denver and UNLV make up the final teams in the group that could make a run at the title in the final round.
UNLV's Therese Koelbaek was the individual bright spot in the field, shooting 2-under 70 to break away from a tie with Altomare to start the day. The round gave Koelbaek a three-shot cushion at 5-under 139, and left her with the second-round lead for the second time in two starts this season.
“It was a little tough today; there were some tough pins out there,” Koelbaek said. “I didn’t hit it well today, kind of struggling a little on the front, but at the end I just made some long ones.”