The Notre Dame women's golf team will be looking to gain confidence during its 1999 spring season, after a 1998 fall campaign that saw the young squad make steady progress over the course of four challenging tournaments.
"The team is searching for an identity and for some confidence right now," says sixth-year head coach Ross Smith, whose team wrapped up its fall schedule in late October by playing host to the Notre Dame Invitational in Bonita Springs, Fla., for the second straight year.
"We have become more competitive over the last couple of years and we should become much stronger as we get into the spring season. We have some very talented players who just need to get some more college tournament experience."
The Irish own the rare distinction of having no seniors on the 11-player roster, with juniors Andrea Klee (Appleton, Wis.) and Beth Cooper (Kalamazoo, Mich.) and sophomore Mary Klein (Kokomo, Ind.) ranking as the only players with significant college tournament experience.
"Success for this team may not be the same as for others," explains Smith. "We have a unique situation in that the entire team will be back for 1999-2000. So our approach is to try and play the best we can in each tournament while steadily building to the point where we can be competitive with every team in the Midwest. We won't know until this time next year whether we have made the needed progress towards that goal, but this team has the depth of talent and level of work ethic that it takes to get there."
Klee was the clear leader of the program in the fall of 1998, as the junior team captain won the annual campus championship before leading the team in the first three events-the Michigan State Invitational, the prestigious Lady Northern Intercollegiate (held at Purdue's Kampen Course) and the Michigan Invitational. Klee heads into the spring with an 80.50 stroke average that would rank third-best in the 10-year history of Notre Dame women's golf.
After a bumpy freshman season, Klee has counted to the team score (lowest four) in 33 of 34 rounds during the past three semesters. And despite some rough moments in the fall of 1998, she is poised for a strong 1998-99 campaign.
"Andrea was not happy with some of the scores that she shot in the fall. She often had a hard time completing a round," says Smith. "She just needs to get back to the point where she is trusting her swing and is not pushing herself too hard. She hits the ball as well as any of the players from other teams, has good length, is controlling the ball better and is a good putter when she believes in herself. She is clearly our leader for the present and the future."
Klein turned in a freshman season that included a solid 82.00 stroke average and a fifth-place showing at the Indiana Invitational, after totaling an eight-over 230. But like Klee, Klein struggled at times last fall before capping the semester with a team-best showing at the Notre Dame Invitational (sixth out of 76 golfers), yielding a solid 81.70 fall stroke average.
"Mary has big-time ability, it's just a matter of her putting it all together and maintaining that level of play for a full tournament," says Smith of the player who stood 10th at the Lady Northern thanks to rounds of 79 and 81 before a frustrating final-round 91. "Mary is very consistent off the tee and is a good putter, but her iron game is just holding her back a little right now. But when she gets it going, watch out."
Notre Dame's top two golfers could emerge as a dangerous duo over the next few months and have the talent to elevate the program to another level in 1999-2000.
"When Andrea and Mary are at the top of their games, they can be one of the top one-two punches in the entire Midwest," predicts Smith. "And that's an important thing to have for a program that is looking to establish a name for itself."
Cooper, a member of college golf's All-America Scholar team who carries a 3.72 cumulative grade-point average, posted an inconsistent 84.29 strokes per round during the fall but is capable of breaking 80 on a regular basis due to a strong short game.
"Beth is very close to taking her game to another level," says Smith. "She needs to make some improvements on her game and get more consistent in hitting greens in regulation. But there's no reason she can't post more rounds under 80 for us."
Cooper's classmate Brigid Fisher (Augusta, Ga.) earned a spot in the starting six during the fall and is recognized by Smith for having one of the top short games among players in the region. Newcomers Shane Smith (St. Petersburg, Fla.), a sophomore transfer from SMU, and Kristin McMurtrie (Calgary, Alb.) also have gained early tournament experience, after refining their swings.
Other top candidates for the top eight spots have included promising sophomores Becca Schloss (Bloomsburg, Pa.) and Danielle Villarosa (Verona, N.J.) and freshman Lauren Fuchs (Louisville, Ky.). Schloss actually has 28 rounds of intercollegiate play to her credit (12 played as an individual entrant) and led the Irish during her freshman season at the Notre Dame Invitational.
Two other freshmen-Sara Rabe (Cincinnati, Ohio), Jennifer Lynch (West Chester, Ohio)-complete a roster that could return intact when the 1999 campus championship rolls around.
Like the Notre Dame men's golf program-which includes 10 players that hail from 10 different states or countries-the Irish women's golf program is indicative of the University's national student body, as the roster includes players from 11 different states or provinces.
Smith remains optimistic for the future of women's golf at Notre Dame, based on the strong core group that will return in 1999-2000, when the program also will reap the benefits of the soon-to-be-completed William K. and Natalie O. Warren Golf Course, located on the northeast side of campus.
"The new Warren Golf Course, combined with some solid results that we've been able to post, are the type of things that help your program become even more attractive," says Smith.
"In particular, the Warren Golf Course will provide great convenience, because it is within walking distance, in addition to being a championship-caliber facility. Practicing on that course will prepare us for playing anywhere in the country, which is a great bonus to have over the course of a full season. We're just excited for the overall potential of the program right now."
Academics Job One
In addition to qualifying as one of the rising programs in the nation, the Notre Dame women's golf team also has excelled in the classroom.
· The women's golf team's 3.07 team grade point average in the 1998 fall semester ranked among the highest posted by any of Notre Dame's 26 varsity teams, led by three Dean's List students-junior Beth Cooper and freshmen Lauren Fuchs and Sarah Rabe. The Irish women's golf program held a 3.04 cumulative team GPA at the end of the '98 fall semester.
· Six players on the 1997-98 team posted at least one Dean's List semester (3.4 grade point average or higher), including two who made the Dean's List in both the fall of '97 and the spring of '98. Current junior Beth Cooper has been named to the Dean's List following each of her five semesters at Notre Dame.
· All three members of the class of 1998 graduated with a cumulative GPA of 2.95 or higher, with Kristin Schaner earning a spot on the Dean's List for both semesters of 1997-98 while Tracy Melby was a Dean's List student in the fall of '97 and Katie King posted a Dean's List semester in the spring of '98. Schaner graduated with a 3.54 cumulative GPA as a sociology major while Melby posted a 3.21 cumulative GPA as a pre-professional science major.
· Current junior Beth Cooper was one of 116 players in the nation named to the 1997-98 Golf Coaches Association of America All-Academic Scholar Team. Cooper is a five-team Notre Dame Dean's List student and carries a 3.72 cumulative grade-point average as a finance major.
· 1998 graduate Kristin Schaner was one of 82 players in the nation named to the 1996-97 Golf Coaches Association of America All-Academic Scholar Team (Schaner's senior season was cut short by a shoulder injury).