Whit Women's Golf Sets Sights on NWC Title, National Tourney
News Release Date:
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- A young and rapidly improving Whitman College women's golf team has its sights set high as the 2012 spring season gets started.
"We had our best season in school history a year ago, and we continued to get stronger last fall," Whitman coach Skip Molitor says. "Our roster is deeper, more talented and more experienced than ever, and we've put ourselves in position to challenge this spring for the Northwest Conference title."
One of the perks that comes with an NWC title, in addition to bragging rights, is automatic qualification for the NCAA Division III national championship tournament late this spring.
"If we play well this spring and don't get the automatic berth, we'll be in the conversation for one of the at-large bids to nationals," Molitor says. "That being said, there aren't many at-large bids to be had."
Whitman begins the spring with a No. 4 regional ranking behind No. 1 George Fox, No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor and No. 3 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS).
"If the national tournament was to start today, George Fox and Mary Hardin-Baylor would receive automatic bids and CMS would compete in a pool for independent schools not affiliated with any conference," Molitor says.
"That means Whitman would be first in line from the West in terms of at-large bids, and our region is considered one of the strongest in the nation."
Whitman, ranked No. 19 nationally in the latest National Golf Coaches Association poll, hits the links for the first time this Saturday when it hosts an 18-hole match against Lewis-Clark State and College of Idaho at Wildhorse Golf Course near Mission, Ore.
The Missionaries then head to Tacoma, Wash., the following weekend for a two-day invitational at Oakbrook Country Club.
"That's the first weekend of our two-week Spring Break," Molitor says. "Later in the month we'll be in southern California for a two-day invitational preceded by an 18-hole match-play event."
The spring season hits the stretch run in late March and April with the NWC Spring Classic and NWC Championship Tournament.
Results from those two tournaments, both of them two-day competitions, account for 75 percent of the season-long scoring that will crown the 2012 NWC champion.
The other 25 percent of the applicable scoring is already in the books, having come at last October's two-day NWC Fall Classic. Whitman was second to George Fox in the team scoring at that tourney with junior Tate Head leading the way with a third-place individual finish.
"It was a solid performance to finish second at the Fall Classic, but those two rounds also were a good indication that Tate has her game back," Molitor says. "Tate led our team in stroke average in her first year at Whitman, but then she fell into a little bit of a lull."
Head shot rounds of 75 and 80 at the Fall Classic for a 155 total that would have won any of the NWC major tournaments except the last two. "Tate has the ability to stay in the hunt for the top spots at any of the conference tournaments," Molitor says. "She's in a great spot right now, both mentally and in the overall state of her golf game."
Caitlin Holland, the other junior veteran on the squad, finished the spring season a year ago with the second-best stroke average on the team.
"Caitlin strugged a bit last fall, but the early indication this spring is that she's ready to re-establish herself among our stroke leaders," Molitor says.
"Both of our juniors have survived some ups and downs, some ebbs and flows, with their games over the past few years, and both are determined to get better. They are intent are having a strong spring season as a prelude to an even better senior year."
While Head and Holland provide upperclass leadership, sophomore Katie Zajicek has already emerged as the best player in the history of Whitman women's golf.
"We played eight rounds last fall, and Katie's stroke average for the last six rounds was 76.5," Molitor says. "At the moment she ranks No. 13 nationally in stroke average for NCAA Division III. She has positioned herself as one of the best young golfers in the country."
Zajicek turned heads when she shot rounds of 74 and 75 to win last fall's Whitman Invitational by seven strokes. She also set a new school record with an even-par 72 at Portland's Heron Lakes to win last October's Concordia Invitational.
"While Katie has set a very high performance bar for our program, she is being pushed by the other six players on our active roster," Molitor says. "Our roster is very evenly matched. Any of them can shoot our low score on any given day."
Other sophomores on the team are Catelyn Webber and Elaine Whaley.
"Catelyn was our most consistent player last fall," Molitor says. "Out of her eight rounds, she shot just one round outside of a four-stroke window between 79 and 82.
"That kind of consistency is impressive, but at the same Catelyn realizes she's capable of shooting lower scores on a regular basis. Don't be surprised if Catelyn starts dropping her scores into the mid-70s."
Whaley finished her fall season on a strong note, shooting an 80 in the final round of the Fall Classic.
"No one on our team, or in the conference, is going to out-work Elaine," Molitor says. "She's very capable of bringing her scores down into the 70s on a regular basis. It was great to see her work ethic rewarded with that 80 in the closing round of the Fall Classic. Our hope is that picks up this spring right where she left off in the fall."
First-year players Sarah Debs and Kelly Sweeny added more talent and depth to the roster last fall.
"Sarah and Kelly caught the attention of their teammates when they shared team medalist honors in their first round last fall," Molitor says. "They both are experienced when it comes to competitive golf. Both came to Whitman after playing well in junior tournaments and state high school tournaments."
Debs made the quickest adjustment to college golf, finishing last fall with the team's second-best stroke average.
"If it wasn't for Katie Zajicek rising to be one of the top 15 golfers in the country, Sarah would have led us in stroke average in her first semester," Molitor says. "She stepped into our program and immediately found her comfort zone.
"Sarah probably has the best short game on our team already. She's an outstanding putter and chipper, and she's a very consistent player all around the course."
While slowed last fall and early this spring by a few health issues, Sweeney is a "lot like Elaine Whaley in how much she likes to work on her golf game," Molitor says. "Kelly has the talent to play with everyone else on our roster. She's going to one of our leaders for the next three years."
After ending the 2010-11 season with a second-place NWC finish (the best finish in school history), Whitman raised its level of play again last fall.
"We shot a team score of 320 or better in each of our last five rounds in the fall," Molitor says. "That was a stroke average of 79.4 per player. Had we shot that well for all eight rounds, we would have had the third-best stroke average in the country for Division three."
The key to last fall's surge was the Whitman Invitational, which the Missionaries won by 25 strokes.
"Our performance that weekend raised our expectations and how we view ourselves as a team," Molitor says. "We can look back on those scores in the fall with a great deal of pride, but we're not satisfied. We believe our best scores are still ahead of us."
Molitor, now in his fourth season, says the women's golf program has continued to evolve in recent years.
"Last year was the first time we've had a roster of players who came to Whitman in every case with the intention of playing varsity golf," he says.
"This year is the first time we've had a team fully and readily committed to spending time in the fitness center and weight room. They want to raise their fitness and strength levels to the point that it gives them the best chance to be successful on the course. This group is very committed to competing and hopefully bringing home a conference championship."
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CONTACT: Dave Holden
Sports Information Director
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Wash.
509 527-5902; email@example.com