Whitman Women head to O'Brien Invitational

Sunday, Sep 16, 2012

WALLA WALLA — Coach Skip Molitor got a succinct glimpse at what he believes his Whitman College women’s golf team will look like this season during last weekend’s three-school competition at Quail Ridge in Clarkston.


The Missionaries shot a respectable 315 team score, led by junior Caitlin Webber (Bellevue, Wash.) and sophomore Kelly Sweeney (Enumclaw, Wash.), who matched 4-over-par 75s. Whitman finished four shots behind perennial NAIA power Lewis-Clark State College and a comfortable 26 shots in front of Northwest Conference rival Whitworth University.


So Molitor, who is now into his fifth season in charge of the program, is encouraged that his team of two seniors, four juniors, two sophomores and one freshman is poised to repeat as Northwest Conference champion and earn a second straight automatic berth in the NCAA Division III National Championships. “Last year was a fabulous year,” said Molitor, who noted that his entire lineup returns from a squad that placed 12th at last year’s national tournament.


“We are blessed with depth, and the main thing is that our ladies appear to be very determined to continue to improve. Getting back to nationals is very motivating, and I think we are motivated. However, the one thing you have to guard against is that just because you have everybody back, you can’t relax and lose that competitive edge. “In golf, things can go south in a hurry.”


Molitor is anxious to get another look at where his team fits in this weekend, and on an even bigger stage. Whitman is one of 10 schools that has been invited to participate in the O’Brien Invitational that will be played on the Warren Golf Course on the Notre Dame University campus in South Bend, Ind., Sunday and Monday. The O’Brien Invitational annually features the top 10 school’s from the previous year’s national tournament. Since two of those teams were unable to participate this year because of scheduling conflicts, Whitman, the 12th team at nationals, received the invitation. “Every other team in the tournament, other than the host team, Saint Mary’s, and ourselves finished in the top 10,” Molitor said.


That includes George Fox, one of Whitman’s Northwest Conference rivals which received an at-large berth last spring and wound up finishing seventh in the national tournament. “George Fox is the primary favorite to win our conference this year, along with ourselves,” Molitor said. “George Fox also has everyone back, and whenever the two of us get together in a tournament, it is a knockdown, drag out affair.” Molitor noted that Willamette and Whitworth are two other programs that are on the rise in the Northwest Conference.


Along with Webber and Sweeney, the other members of this year’s Whitman golf squad are seniors Taylor Head (Sehome High, Bellingham) and Caitlin Holland (Puyallup High, Edgewood, Wash.); juniors Elaine Whaley (Gonzaga Prep, Spokane) and Katie Zajicek (Corvallis, Ore.); sophomore Sarah Debs (Castilleja School, Monte Sereno, Calif.); and freshman Alyssa Maine (Freeman High, Spokane).


Whaley, who is rehabbing from a summer wrist operation, and Debs, who is recovering from a hip injury, won’t make the trip back to Indiana. “We will be taking six players back there,” said Molitor, who noted that Sweeney and Webber would play the first and second spots, based on the results of a match-play competition during the week prior to the tournament. Head and Zajicek matched up to determine third and fourth spots, and Holland and Maine battled for fifth and sixth. The sixth player doesn’t count toward team scoring.


In Clarkston last weekend, Zajicek filled the No. 6 role and shot an 81, the team’s fourth-best score following the 75s by Webber and Sweeney and an 80 turned in by Head. “If we could have counter her score, we would have shot 311 and tied for first,” Molitor pointed out.


While the team’s strength is its depth and balance, Head and Zajicek enjoyed the greatest success. Both players were named to the all-West Region team. Whaley earned first-team all-NWC honors and Sweeney was named to the second team. And Webber posted the team’s low stroke average.


Sweeney led the Missionaries at nationals, placing 32nd with a 72-hole score of 317. She shot a 1-over-par 73 in the first round that had her in second place for a time. “Last year, six of our seven players were within two strokes of each other in stroke average,” Molitor said. “And we expect Allysa Maine to be right in the mix with them this year.” Head and Holland have been selected as co-captains for this year’s team, the coach said. “They have done a great job of providing leadership going into the year,” he said. “This is the first year we have had seniors and that is very exciting for the program.”


Molitor said the team would use the first two months of the season to prepare for the NWC Fall Classic Oct. 27-28 at the Tri-Mountain Golf Club in Ridgefield, Wash. It’s the only fall tournament that will count toward the conference standings. “We played our fall qualifying last week and we were not very impressive,” Molitor said. “Two of our girls, Zajicek and Webber, were in China for the summer and their games are not yet in top shape.


“We have two months to get our games in shape and position ourselves.”