Bulldog Women's Golf Looks To Be In WCC Championship Hunt
SPOKANE, Wash. - Gonzaga University's women's golf team, which did something last season only two others team had done in the 14 previous West Coast Conference Championships, readies itself for another tough title run at the 16th WCC Championships beginning Monday.
The tournament field has a new addition and the tournament format takes on a new look at the 6,342-yard, par 72 San Juan Oaks Golf Club in Hollister, Calif.
Last year the Bulldogs finished second, becoming the first team other than Pepperdine University and the University of San Francisco to finish in the top two, Pepperdine winning its 13th WCC title while USF finished third after 12 runner-up finishes and two titles in the first 14 events.
Seattle University joined the WCC as an affiliate member in women's golf last season, but with the Redhawks, currently a NCAA Division I independent, joining the WAC next season, this will be their last year in the WCC field.
But WCC newcomer BYU, which joined the WCC last July 1, will make its first appearance in the field, and Cal State Bakersfield will join the WCC as an affiliate member in women's golf beginning with the 2012-13 season.
The University of Portland dropped men's and women's golf following the 2011 season.
The new format will see the teams play 18 holes a day over three days beginning Monday, replacing the old 54-hole format of 36 holes on Monday and 18 Tuesday. Monday's women's teams will tee off the 10th hole, men's teams off the first hole with tee times beginning at 8 a.m.
Gonzaga head coach Brad Rickel doesn't think the format change will have much of an impact.
"It's less of a physical grind. I don't necessarily think one way or the other is better for us. I do like the fact we won't have 12-hour days on the course and we can practice each day afterward. I don't think it favors everybody," he said. "It gives you more time to think and more time to improve, but it also gives you more time to think and not improve. We have to make certain we're in the category of teams who get better each day because of that extra time."
But Rickel does think it may help junior Victoria Fallgren, playing in her third WCC Championship.
"I think the three-day format really favors her because she wears out a little bit on the 54-holes in a day-and-a-half," Rickel said.
Fallgren, tied for eighth a year ago, Kliebphipat was 10th and Corey was 11th, giving the Bulldogs some veteran experience to go with freshmen Kim and Wu.
Fallgren is one of four Bulldogs to have played all 28 rounds this season, and she brings a 76.4 stroke average for the year into the championship. Her best 54-hole score was 221 at the Mountain View Collegiate, the last team tourney the Bulldogs played prior to the WCC Championship. She also posted her season-best round of 69 in the tournament at the Mountain View Golf Course in Tucson, Ariz. She had a strong spring season, posting a stroke average of 76.0 in 13 spring rounds.
Kim is right behind Fallgren with her 76.6 stroke average. She had a 54-hole best of 221 at the Folino Invitational at Industry Hills Golf Club at Pacific Palms in Industry Hills, Calif., including a season-best round of 70. She tied for second to help the Bulldogs to the team title, only their second in program history. Kim had the best spring of any Bulldog, averaging 75.0 in her 13 rounds.
Kliebphipat is averaging 78.6 and posted her season-best round of 71 at the Folino Invitational, while Han is averaging 78.5 and shot a season-best 71 in her first collegiate tournament, the season-opening Circling Raven Invitational hosted by Gonzaga in Worley, Idaho. Kliebphipat showed the best improvement of any Bulldog from the fall to the spring, averaging 76.4 in the spring after being at 80.5 through 15 fall rounds. She also posted her season-best 54-hole score of 219 at the Mountain View Collegiate.
Corey is one of just two seniors on this year's squad, averaging 79.0 for 18 rounds. Her best 54-hole score of the season was 231 playing as an individual in the season-opening Circling Raven Invitational.
Rickel doesn't know what to expect from his squad, but believes Kim and Fallgren are two players to watch.
"Alice has finished twice and won once this spring. She is a freshman playing in her first conference championship, but I think she is ready and raring to go," Rickel said. "Victoria is playing in her third conference championship. She's steady and I think she's still looking for her best tournament of the spring and is working hard. But I have the utmost confidence in the five players I put on the course."
Rickel said last year's second-place finish wasn't a fluke.
"I definitely thought we were good enough to do that, but the history of the league said that wasn't possible. It did happen. I don't think it was a fluke. We were the second best team in each round. Nobody beat us except Pepperdine in any round. That was positive," Rickel said. "The league is deeper this year. The thing about college golf is you can finish first or last. You have to golf your ball. We take three people back who have played the golf course successfully, and we take two freshmen, one of which has been one of our best players all year long. I'm excited about it. But we have to play our best if we are going to beat many teams in the conference."
The coaches didn't predict much of a change from last year's standings in this year's poll with Pepperdine expected to claim the title with Gonzaga and USF tied for second. BYU was picked fourth, Santa Clara University fifth and Seattle sixth. Last year's results had Santa Clara, Seattle and Portland finishing fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively, behind Pepperdine, Gonzaga and USF.
Returning to San Juan Oaks has no real bearing on the outcome, according to Rickel.
"Golf is golf. You go to a different course every week. We have to learn how to play it. We ought to know how to play it, now we need to be one year better on it. That's always our theme; we're better the second time we get to do something. There are a few holes we want to play a little better. It plays straightforward, but there are two or three quirky holes you have to pay attention to," he said of the layout.
Overall, he's just excited to tee things up Monday.
"I'm just excited. Our whole year always comes down to that final weekend. It's exciting. We've built up to it and done everything to try and peak at this time. We've had a couple of weeks of practice, got some rest and I feel as good as I can feel. I'm excited to get there," he said.