April 25, 2008
By Maura K. Sullivan, Sports Information Student Assistant
The Notre Dame women’s golf team started off its season last fall like Tiger Woods on a Sunday, winning its first three tournaments. Not surprisingly, junior captain Lisa Maunu names that first tournament at the College of Charleston as one of her favorite moments on the Fighting Irish golf team.
“We’re a young team and we came out and had a great team score for the first round,” she says. “The toughest part was that a lot of schools were saying we just got lucky. But deep down inside we knew we were that good. Coming out the next two days and proving ourselves to every other team who was talking smack about us was probably one of my favorite moments. And then carrying the first-place team trophy and first and second place individual trophies through the airport was a great feeling. We proved to them and to ourselves how good we were and that we were going to have a great year.”
One would never guess from this quote that Maunu herself won the individual tournament, shooting a six-under par 210 at the Yeamans Hall Golf Course.
“I didn’t play my best and Lisa was out there encouraging me from two fairways down,” freshman Katie Conway recalls. “She was so supportive and excited for the team victory. The team was most important to her; you would never know that she had won the individual tournament.”
The importance of the team over the individual is a recurring theme in the leadership of Maunu and her fellow captain, senior Alejandra Diaz-Calderon. Golf is an individual sport with intense competition between players, but all that changes when golfers arrive at college. The team becomes the focus, because the scores of four of the five players contribute to the team’s total event score. The message that the captains emphasize is that they are the Notre Dame women’s golf team; the group score is what matters and the goal is to play as hard as you can for your teammates.
“Golf is very interesting, because we’ve played junior golf all our lives and golf is pretty much an individual sport,” Diaz-Calderon notes. “When you get to college, golf is a team sport. An individual person can shoot really well, but if your team is slacking, it doesn’t matter what one person shoots. Even if you’re not playing well, you have to play through, because you don’t know how your team is playing.”
With such a small team, competition for playing spots is inevitable and could potentially interfere with the team chemistry, but that is not the case with this Notre Dame team. Maunu does not feel that it affects the team unity in the slightest.
“On this team we have a lot of changes in the lineup, but everyone works together,” she says. “We fight for the spots (in the lineup), but I don’t think it’s an issue; we’re all going out to play the same course and it doesn’t matter what number is beside your name.”
The competition among these golfers is more about challenging and encouraging one another to fulfill their potential, rather than bringing someone else down in a quest to reach the top spot. It is obviously a philosophy that is working for the team, because they are most successful when all of their starters play their best game.
This attitude, instilled by Maunu and Diaz-Calderon, pervades throughout the whole team and has enabled their success to continue into the spring season. The team grabbed first place at the Rio Verde Collegiate Invitational in Arizona, and finished fourth at the Canes & Cards Classic in Florida, before a resounding nine-shot win at the BIG EAST Conference Championship last week outside Cincinnati, a victory that earned the program its third trip to the NCAA Championships.
It is obvious that the team possesses a close-knit quality and a rare camaraderie that stems from the leadership of their captains. Maunu and Diaz-Calderon pride themselves on their communication skills and ability to address problems within the team before they become major issues.
Fun is a key factor in the relationship of the Notre Dame women’s golf team. Maunu, a native of St. Thomas, Ontario, who grew up playing on courses against boys, sees the importance of a laid-back, positive attitude.
“At practice we play a lot of games while we train; it’s important to have some fun,” she says. “While traveling, we keep a positive attitude and again, try to have fun a lot of the time and joke around. We just keep a relaxing attitude and atmosphere.”
Success on the course is obviously a priority for the team, but Maunu and Diaz-Calderon are also aware that their teammates and students and people just like anyone else, in addition to being athletes.
“I think it’s a big deal to have a positive attitude,” Diaz-Calderon observes. “Nobody’s going to have a perfect golf game or a perfect round. We just try to learn from those mistakes and move forward and think positive. And it’s not just in golf. We try to ask our teammates how school is going, about their tests, and papers, and classes. We just try to keep them motivated and ask them constantly how they are doing. We’re people too, not just athletes, and everyone has issues.”
Diaz-Calderon, a Guadalajara, Mexico, resident whose teammates call her Ale, acquired this positive attitude while suffering from a back injury that has impeded her golf career at Notre Dame. She is unable to travel with the team and has had limited playing time since the injury her freshman year, but is an invaluable asset to the team in other ways.
“The back injury was pretty hard my freshman and sophomore year,” she comments. “Then I had to make a decision whether to be a quitter because I got injured or to stay on the team and try to help in some other way.”
“She really helps out at practice, with every single one of us,” Maunu says. “She definitely has her presence in all of our games; she’s our sixth man in our bag.”
“The second you come off the course, there is always a text from Ale saying good job or encouraging you,” Conway adds.
A feeling of gratitude goes hand in hand with the positive attitudes of Maunu and Diaz-Calderon. Both of these golfers have cherished their years at Notre Dame, both on the course and off.
“The experience I’m getting at Notre Dame is something I can treasure forever,” Diaz-Calderon notes with pride. “The people here and the support system where people treat you like family are something you can take with you. I feel like my experiences here have made me grow as a person.”
“That’s one thing our school has over every other school, the support and family that you get,” Maunu chimes in. “We were walking down the street in Miami and met a Notre Dame alum who asked us to go to dinner with him and his family. It’s just phenomenal, because you can find it everywhere you go.”
Maunu is a science education major with plans to return to Canada to teach while still playing golf. Coaching may also be in her future. Diaz-Calderon is a finance major, weighing her options of job opportunities and graduate school for sports management. Both of these athletes have achieved on the golf course and in the classroom under the shadow of the Golden Dome.
The personal successes of Maunu and Diaz-Calderon are only the beginning of the legacy that they will leave at Notre Dame. As captains of the Notre Dame women’s golf team, they have touched the lives and hearts of each of their teammates and anyone else who interacts with the team. Conway said she doesn’t know what the team would do without these two accomplished young women as their leaders.
The unique perspective that these two golfers bring to the game has been a recipe for success for the team both on and off the course, and there is little doubt that their positive attitudes will take them far in life no matter what courses they choose to pursue. Maunu and Diaz-Calderon will occupy a special place in the annals of Fighting Irish athletics history, just as Notre Dame will forever hold a special place in their hearts.
— ND —