Notebook: Arizona squad awaits breakthrough
Arizona epitomizes youth this season in every way. The leading Wildcat scorers are a sophomore transfer and two freshmen. A pair of newlyweds – assistant coach Derek Radley and wife Sara Brown – have taken the reins for the past few weeks as head coach Laura Ianello and her husband welcomed daughter Natalie into the world Feb. 26.
With youth comes the opportunity for a breakout performance, and Arizona is still waiting for that big win that will define – and perhaps, rejuvenate – its season. In search of something a little different, Radley and Ianello decided to build a late-season trip east into the competition schedule. The Wildcats tee off at the Gator Invitational today in Gainesville, Fla., with the second-highest Golfweek ranking (No. 10, behind only No. 7 Oklahoma) in the 14-team field.
The Gator falls on Arizona’s spring break and replaces the team’s usual Hawaii excursion. Ianello reasoned that it allows her players to see competition they won’t normally see. Radley has a trip to Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., planned for post-tournament, but there is work to be done in the meantime.
“We’ve been getting off to OK starts, we just haven’t had that breakthrough yet,” Radley said. “This is going to be a big week for us.”
Arizona has certainly lived up to its preseason No. 8 ranking, but its best finish so far has been third, at the Windy City Collegiate in October. Ianello targets putting as the missing link, and in her absence, Radley has put an increased emphasis on statistics. Arizona players have begun to look at where they are losing strokes, which has created confidence. Radley walked of the Mark Bostick course, a short track with an emphasis on short game, on the eve of the Gator with a good feeling.
“It’s been good for us to figure out what the weaknesses are individually,” he said. “I’ve seen some improvement in the practice round.”
The Wildcat lineup is a tough roster to crack, led by sophomore Lindsey Weaver, No. 17 in the country. She’s a big reason Arizona has been a top-10 team all season.
“I love this team and they have so much potential,” Ianello said. “With the addition of Lindsey we are stronger than what we were last season.”
Freshman Jessica Vasilic, a powerful Swede who stands at 6 feet, 4 inches tall, was a predictable shot in the arm for the Wildcats, too. The surprise, however, has been freshman Wanasa Zhou.
As Radley tells it, the Australian is the first to practice and the last to leave. She is second to Weaver in team scoring.
“Wanasa has been a diamond in the rough,” Ianello said. “She is the hardest worker I have ever met and she will do anything to compete and win.”
It’s a culture that runs all the way through Arizona’s roster, and one Radley is cultivating until Ianello returns.
“We are doing the right things,” he said.
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Island party: Mississippi State continued its rise March 12 with a 21-shot victory at the Dr. Donnis Thompson Invitational in Kaneohe, Hawaii. It’s the second tournament title for the Bulldogs this season – they also won their own Old Waverly Bulldog Invitational in October – which makes this the first multi-victory season for Mississippi State since 1999.
“We were successful in so many ways here,” head coach Ginger Brown-Lemm said. “I am very excited about an 11-over-par 875 this early in the season. I so believe in this team. We have fun, work hard and are very competitive.”
After competing in their first NCAA Championship in program history last spring, the Bulldogs continue to set personal records, too. Mississippi State’s 8-over 584 total through the first 36 holes was the lowest yet this spring. The team is ranked No. 31 by Golfweek.
- Information from Mississippi State Athletics used in this report
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Invitation only: It’s been a big week for amateur and college women as Kraft Nabisco exemptions were released March 11 followed by U.S. Curtis Cup selections on March 13.
Kraft invitations were extended to four collegians, including Alabama’s Emma Talley (who earned hers courtesy of her 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur victory), USC’s Annie Park, UCLA’s Alison Lee and Clemson’s Ashlan Ramsey. (Click here for more)
The U.S. Curtis Cup team consists entirely of collegians. The eight-woman team includes Kyung Kim, USC; A. Lee; Erynne Lee, UCLA; Ally McDonald, Mississippi State; Park; Ramsey; Mariah Stackhouse, Stanford and Talley (Click here for more)
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Q&A with... LSU freshman Caroline Nistrup, who nearly scored her big breakthrough March 9 at the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate. Nistrup, a longtime member of the Danish national team, lost to Duke’s Yu Liu on the first hole of sudden death. It was the third top-5 finish this year for Nistrup.
How did you approach the Darius Rucker playoff with Yu Liu?
I think we were both pretty nervous. I hit the fairway and then ... I was just trying to get it to the middle of the green, just try to get it to the right place on the green to have a good putt. I did that and she just made it and I didn’t.
You have a fourth-, a third- and now a second-place finish. What have you learned with each time you’ve been in contention this season?
I learned last year when I was leading a tournament after the second round and I kind of went out and played really aggressive in the final round and I lost some shots over that because I got impatient. I learned just to keep patient and the score will come by itself. I’ve gotten closer, it was a first place this time. Now I just need to win the playoff.
How has you game improved since you’ve been at LSU?
I’m hitting a lot of fairways and greens and that’s important for these courses over here – especially hitting a lot of greens. I’ve been hitting good shots, hitting a lot of shots close and I’ve been learning how to make some more putts. I kind of got it together in this tournament.
Growing up in Denmark, what professional player inspired you as you were learning to play?
We had one Danish player (Iben Tinning) that was really good. Annika Sorenstam is from Sweden so she’s always been a great one. Always I’ve liked Suzann Pettersen from Norway. She’s a really good player and she just keeps scoring all the time, I think that’s pretty cool.
You’ve been a member of the Danish national team since 2007. What was the most valuable part of that experience for your game?
I knew how it was to play on a team and how it was to travel all the time so I think it made it a lot easier to come over here because I was used to all the traveling and being away from home.