Women's Golf Still Has Bucket List Boxes To Be Checked
SPOKANE, Wash. - Call it a golf bucket list of sorts, and the pursuit of the final check marks for student Victoria Fallgren and coach Brad Rickel starts Monday when Gonzaga University's women's golf team plays in the 16-team Oregon State Invitational.
The format is 36 holes Monday and 18 holes Tuesday at Trysting Tree Golf Club, a 6,141-yard, par 72 layout in Corvallis, Ore.
"It's kind of funny. Victoria was my first verbal commitment I fully recruited for the entire recruiting cycle. We talked a lot about goals and what she could accomplish if she came here, and what I thought she could do if she came here," Rickel reminisced as the start of the 2012-13 season drew near. "We've slowly ticked off every single box of things we thought we could do here. One was winning the conference championship for her. It's been so much fun being a part of the two of us checking off those boxes."
But there are still a couple of unchecked boxes.
"There are two really major things we haven't accomplished yet," Rickel punctuated. "One is winning the conference championship as a team which has been our biggest goal all along, and two was to play in the post season which no Gonzaga team has accomplished. When I was recruiting her that seemed like a fairy tale at that point and now we are on the verge of things we seemingly could accomplish. I think that's where we go now. We've checked off more boxes and we have loftier goals still ahead, and the team is on board with this."
If what transpired last April carries over to this year, Fallgren and Rickel just might need to sharpen their pencils.
Fallgren became the first Bulldog - men or women - to capture West Coast Conference Championship medalist honors, doing so on the first playoff hole. Gonzaga found itself in the playoff hunt heading into the final round, but perennial powerhouse Pepperdine University came from behind to put that check box on hold for another year for Fallgren and Rickel. But the gap had been closed.
Rickel is optimistic about this team.
"I'm very excited. I think this is the first time we've ever been ready for the first tournament where I felt the team had to compete real hard with each other to travel," Rickel said of his seven-person squad. "Everyone on the team had to knuckle down and work hard on qualifying to make sure they were going to be in the line-up for our first event."
By the time 72 qualifying holes had been played, Rickel felt even better.
"By the time we'd play four rounds it was clear everyone was playing pretty good golf and had worked themselves way into the mix by the end. Raychelle (Santos), one of our freshmen, had actually ended up as the low person in the qualifier," Rickel said.
But he didn't want to put the pressure of being the No. 1 golfer on a freshman in her first collegiate outing.
"I'm going to play Victoria number one and TJ (junior Tai Jade "TJ" Kliebphipat) number two just so Raychelle can ease her way into college golf and not have the 'one' next to her name the first tournament she plays. But she earned the one if I would have done that. I think our team is to the point where it doesn't matter what number is next to the name. Any one of the players going to this tournament could be our best player in this tournament," Rickel said.
Rickel thinks Kliebphipat "is ready to have a breakout year. She's been solid since she got here. She kind of stumbled a little bit last fall, but golf goes that way. She worked hard and came back and played solid in the spring. She had a couple of tournaments where she was showing she could play with the very best players. And she's shown that twice by playing in the Public Links. This is a year where maybe she will have a little bit of a breakthrough."
Dodge, who joins Fallgren as the only two seniors on the squad, is healthy after being slowed by injuries each of the past two seasons.
"Genna had two surgeries. She had an appendectomy that took a bunch of her sophomore year and last year she had shoulder surgery that took over half of her junior year, but it kind of goofed up the end of her sophomore year, too," Rickle said. "The first day on the range in practice she looked like she's hitting the ball like she was as a freshman. She's always been motivated, she's always been incredibly hard working. Hopefully, her body will come with her this year and help her out."
Kim and Wu contributed as freshmen a year ago, and Rickel is looking for them to continue to improve.
"Alice and Han had a lot to learn. They had a lot of talent and played in 10 tournaments each in college. They should hit the ground running this year. Nothing is new anymore. I think they both expect more from themselves," Rickel noted.
The seventh member of Rickle's roster is Angela de Villa who comes to the Bulldogs from Taguig, Philippines.
"Angela has the biggest learning curve of anybody I've had," Rickel said. "Coming from the Philippines, just every-day things are more of a task for her. Just settling into a new country and a new culture and all that. It will take her awhile to adjust. She's already been a fantastic team member. Her golf hasn't quite been what it could be, but I think it's partially the transition she's going through. I think as she settles in she is going to be a big contributor for us."
De Villa is not playing in the opener but is expected to see action the following week when Gonzaga travels to nearby Washington State University.
Rickel said the opener will provide a good test for the Bulldogs.
"There are a few Pac-12 (Pacific-12 Conference) schools there - Washington, WSU and, of course, OSU. San Francisco from our league will be there and there will be a couple of other pretty good golf schools.," Rickel said of the competition. "It's a really good field; it's not a ridiculous field. It's a field we should feel like we should show up with a really good chance to compete right to the final hole on the final day."
Rickel said Trysting Tree will be a challenging course.
"I've coached at Trysting Tree many times, but not one of my players has ever been there. Through the years I've taken many lot of teams there. It's a great golf course. They grow good rough, good thick green grass in Oregon as you know. We'll make sure we get some work out of the rough before we go. They have good greens that are kind of undulating. It's a good course for a college golf tournament," Rickel said.
A good course on which to begin the journey to complete the bucket list.