Feb. 14, 2007
Charlottesvile, VA -
On the heels of a highly successful fall campaign, the Virginia women's golf team is prepared for a historic spring in 2007 - regardless of the outcome of the season.
This year marks the first senior class for the four-year-old UVa program. It is sure to be an emotional scene when that group signs their scorecards for the last time. They just want the occasion to take place in Dayton Beach, the site of this year's NCAA Championships.
Add to that scene the fact head coach Jan Mann, who started the program in 2002, has announced she will retire from coaching at the conclusion of the season.
With five seniors playing for the final time in their collegiate careers, do not think for a moment this year is about melancholy moments. This is a team playing with conviction after a premature and disappointing close to the 2006 season.
Virginia lost a one-hole playoff to Alabama last spring for the final berth into the NCAA Championships. After placing 13th at the 2005 NCAAs, it was a bittersweet moment for a program that has enjoyed a quick ascent to the upper echelon of college golf.
"Everything we do we turn into a positive," said Mann. "We look at it as we were one shot away from going back to the championship. We know we are a championship team and we feel we can get back there this year. That moment serves to motivate this team to work really hard to make sure we accomplish that."
The Cavaliers ended the fall ranked sixth by Golfweek and seventh in the Golfstat standings. The Cavaliers were 10th at the Fall Preview, posted a runner-up finish at North Carolina's Invitational and then won the first event in school history, taking top honors at The Landfall Tradition
"Once you have a win under you belt, not only do you believe you are a winner, the victories seem to come easier," Mann said. "One of the goals our players set was to win a tournament, so they checked that off the list. There are so many good teams out there, winning a tournament is a significant achievement. For them to be as young as they are, it is a real positive way to end the fall season. But just because we won our first tournament does not mean our hunger to win more has diminished."
Leading the Cavalier charge is two-time All-American Leah Wigger. She enters the second half of her senior season with 20 career top-10 finishes, including a second and ninth at the past two NCAA Championships. Last year she set the UVa record with a 73.26 stroke average. This fall she improved that to 72.25. She was the runner-up at the Fall Preview and was ranked 12th in the final Golfweek standings.
The emergence of sophomore Jennie Arseneault has taken some of the pressure off of Wigger and allows here to be more aggressive on the course. After enrolling at Virginia last January, she made a quick transition to the college game and was second on the team with a 75.5 stroke average. After a stellar summer of amateur golf that saw her reach the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur, Arseneault kept up her torrid play. Through four events her stroke average was 73.5 and she produced a pair of top-10 finishes, including leading UVa with a sixth-place effort when the team won the Landfall Tradition.
"It is critical to have someone on the team who can, day-after-day, put up low numbers," Mann said. "I think Leah and Jennie have done that. They have motivated everyone else to play more aggressive. It makes the competitiveness on the team a driving force to make each one of them better."
Senior Rachel Smith and sophomore Carly Truitt return with the most playing experience from last season and this fall. Both players are capable of qualifying for every tournament and posting a countable score. Junior Kristen Simpson and seniors Sally Shonk, Lindsay Robinson and Kira Mayo will also vie for tournament time.
The lone newcomer to the Cavalier lineup is freshman Whitney Neuhauser. A top local junior competitor, she played in three fall events and is a player Mann feels can help Virginia.
"Whitney brings great enthusiasm and energy to our team while also being one of our hardest workers," Mann said. "We play better as a team when they are having fun and she is a big part of that."
With Wigger and Arseneault teaming to give Virginia one of the best one-two combinations in college golf, the Cavaliers are poised to make a strong run in the postseason. Before this senior class is done, they want to make a little more history for the program.