Feb. 12, 2003
When Notre Dame golf coach Debby King took over the Irish women's program in August of 2001, she went to work immediately recruiting some of the top high school and junior golfers from coast to coast.
Her first recruiting class included five golfers who had the chance to come in and play right away.
If the results from the 2002 fall schedule are an indicator, the Irish head coach is off to a fast start in building Notre Dame's women's golf program into a national power.
"I am really excited about the players that we've brought in for this season," said King during the fall.
"We got a late start since I started in August (2001) but we not only got good golfers, but good people as well. All five came in with averages of 78 or better and that's a positive start for us."
The first step for the Irish to advance on the national level is to qualify for the NCAA tournament. Currently, to make the tournament, Notre Dame has to be one of the top programs in the region.
That will all change in the near future as the BIG EAST Conference announced in September (2002) that the conference will now sponsor golf as the minimum of six members now compete at the Division I level. The conference will be eligible for an automatic bid in 2005.
"Having a conference affiliation is very important in recruiting. Kids want to play at the highest level and now with a BIG EAST champion eligible for an automatic bid in 2005, the winner has a chance to play in the NCAA tournament," says King.
The first conference tournament will be played on April 21-22 at Notre Dame's Warren Golf Course. While the tournament winner won't get an automatic bid, hosting the first-ever tournament is important to King and her team.
"It's incredible that we have the chance to host the very first tournament. Not only does it help us since it's our home course, but it really says a great deal about Notre Dame's commitment to the women's golf program now and for the future," said King.
While breaking in a freshman class of five, King and her team will look to improve on last season's team average of 323.59. Through the first six tournaments of 2001-02, the Irish have averaged 314.00, more than five strokes off the school record of 319.83 set in 1997-98.
"We are working hard to get our team average down to 312 or under this year," explained King.
"That will get us to the level we need to become competitive in all our tournaments. At the end last season, we were ranked 102nd. I would like to see us get into the top 70 this year."
With one semester of play under their belts, King's freshman class has made an impact as three of the newcomers have the top three averages for the Irish.
Leading the way is Sarah Bassett (Spokane, Wash.) who closed out the fall leading the team with a 77.86 average in five tournaments. She was the top finisher for the Irish in three of the five tournaments she played with 13 of her 15 rounds counting toward team scoring.
A fierce competitor who improves with each round, Bassett showed outstanding consistency as she shot three consecutive 54-hole totals of 231 over the last three tourneys of the fall. Her best finish was a tie for 13th at the Pine Needles Invitational in North Carolina in early November.
A testament to Bassett's intensity on the golf course was her play at the Adidas Invitational at Port St. Lucie, Fla. After an opening-round 86, Bassett fired a one-under 71 in the second round and followed that with a 74 for the 231 and a tie for 20th.
Right behind Bassett in scoring is Katie Brophy (Fr., Spokane, Wash.). A solid all-around player, Brophy played in all six tournaments in the fall and had a 78.89 average for 18 rounds of play. She had 17 of the 18 rounds (94.4%) she played count to team scoring.
Brophy's best finish was a tie for 16th at the Pine Needles Invitational where she finished with her best 54-hole total of the season, a 20-over par 233 (78-73-82). Her second round of one-over par 73 was the low round of the fall for Brophy.
The third freshman to have an impact on the fall season was Lauren Gebauer (Columbus, Ohio) who earned a spot on the roster after an strong performance at the annual campus championship on Labor Day weekend.
Gebauer broke into the lineup at the Mary Fossum Invitational at Michigan State and playing as an individual entrant, finished second among Irish golfers by tying for 24th with a 236 (80-80-76).
The following week at the Notre Dame Invitational, Gebauer spent time leading the tournament before finishing tied for fifth with a 234 (75-77-82) as the Irish won the Invitational for the second time in three years. The Ohio native finished the fall with a 79.25 average in 12 rounds over four tournaments. She continues to work on improving her distance to go with an excellent short game and should be a major contributor in the spring.
Joining the three freshmen among the major contributors in the fall was sophomore Karen Lotta (Los Angeles, Calif.) who was Notre Dame's top golfer during the 2001-02 season.
As a freshman, Lotta set a Notre Dame record with the lowest single-season average in school history (79.85) and also recorded four top-10 tournaments in her rookie season.
This past fall, Lotta continued her strong play in the fall as she ranks fourth on the team with an 80.20 average in five fall tournaments.
A dedicated player who continues to improve her all-around game, Lotta turned in her best finish of the fall in the Notre Dame Invitational where she finished in a tie for third with a 16-over par 232 (81-79-72). Her final round of even-par 72 was the best single-round of her Notre Dame career.
Lotta also tied Bassett for Notre Dame's best finish (20th) at the Marilynn Smith/Sunflower Invitational in Wichita, Kansas. Both golfers shot 15-over par 231 with Lotta recording three straight 77's in the tournament.
Joining Lotta among the top returnees are juniors Shannon Byrne (Arlington Heights, Ill.) and Rebecca Rogers (Alpharetta, Ga.) and senior captain Terri Taibl (Elm Grove, Wis.).
Byrne has been a regular in the Irish lineup since her freshman year. One of the most consistent golfers the program has ever had, Byrne has played in 25 consecutive tournaments in her career with an 80.77 career average.
For the fall, Byrne turned in an 80.33 average that puts her on pace for the best single-season average of her career.
In the fall, the junior helped Notre Dame win its second Notre Dame Invitational in three years as she finished 15th with a 239 (82-77-80), giving the Irish four players in the top 20 at the Warren Golf Course.
At the Adidas Fall Classic in Port St. Lucie, Fla., Byrne was Notre Dame's top finisher as she tied for 17th while recording the best 54-hole total of her career with a 14-over par 230 (76-79-75).
Rogers played in all six tournaments in the fall and is on course for her best season as she turned in an 80.72 average for 18 rounds. That's almost two strokes better than her career average.
The Georgia native has continued to improve her distance and consistency off the tee over the past two seasons. In the fall, Rogers turned in the team's top finish at the Legends of Indiana tournament where she had her best 54-hole score with a 234 (78-80-76) and a tie for 42nd in the 96-player field.
She closed the fall portion of the schedule with a tie for 22nd at the Pine Needles Invitational with a 234 (78-76-80).
Taibl is in her second season as team captain and has played a key leadership role in each of King's first two seasons with the Irish.
On the course, she played in four tournaments and averaged an 81.92. Over the course of her Notre Dame career she owns an 83.79 average in 25 tournaments.
Her best tournament of the fall came at the Adidas Invitational where she finished 38th with three solid rounds of 82-80-79 for a 241.
Casey Rotella (So., Keswick, Va.) and freshmen Lauren Barbir (Montgomery, Texas) and Suzie Hayes (Dublin, Ireland) round out the Notre Dame lineup.
Rotella did not play in the fall due to an injury to her right arm that occurred last spring at the Green Wave Invitational in New Orleans.
A left-hander, Rotella owns an outstanding short game and will work to improve her distance off the tee when her injury allows. As a freshman, she got into three tournaments in 2001-02 and had an 85.75 average.
Barbir and Hayes are two more talented members of King's first recruiting class at Notre Dame.
Barbir is a hard working golfer who has a strong mental approach to the game. During her first semester, the Texas native got into three tournaments and turned in an 83.22 average. Her best finish came at the final tournament of the fall - the Pine Needles Invitational - where she tied for 44th with a 244 (81-83-80).
Hayes is the first Notre Dame women's golfer from Ireland.
A highly-ranked recruit, Hayes is working to adapt her game to play in the United States by getting better distance off the tee.
She played in two tournaments in the fall, each as an individual participant. She turned in an 81.67 average with her best finish coming at the Notre Dame Invitational as she tied for 31st in a field of 109 golfers. She shot a 54-hole total of 245 (85-82-78) with a third round 78 her best round of the fall.
As the talent level of the Irish has improved, so too, has the schedule. In the spring, Notre Dame will play stronger competition in the competitive Carolina Classic and the Baylor/Tapito Springs Shoot-Out. The Irish will also host the first-ever BIG EAST Tournament in April as they continue toward their goal of a berth in the NCAA tournament.