March 9, 2000
By Pete LaFleur
One of the unique aspects in college golf is the split-season format, with teams playing a handful of tournaments in the fall and the ensuing spring. And after an unusual – but often promising – 1999 fall season, the Notre Dame women’s golf team is eager to resume play in the upcoming spring.
The Irish entered the fall without the services of senior captain Andrea Klee, who ended up missing all four fall events due to a lingering arm injury that leaves her status uncertain for the spring. Another experienced veteran, senior Beth Cooper, elected not to compete in order to give the younger players the chance to play while Cooper worked towards her degree in finance, ultimately graduating after the 1999 fall semester.
Further misfortune struck junior Mary Klein prior to the season-opening Lady Northern Invitational, as Klein was sidelined due to a neck injury before returning for the Michigan Invitational.
But through it all, seventh-year head coach Ross Smith and the Irish squad remained upbeat by embracing the room for improvement that comes with a competition season spanning eight months.
“After Andrea was injured and Beth made her decision to give the other players a chance, it posed a great challenge for this team,” says Smith, who is set to return each of his current top eight golfers for 2000-2001. “We still knew who our top few golfers would be but had a lot of questions after that. It opened the door for a lot of players but it took a while to sort through it all.”
With a shortage of veteran talent, the Irish turned to junior Shane Smith as the team’s acting captain and the St. Petersburg, Fla., native responded with a solid 1999 fall season that puts her on pace to challenge the Notre Dame season stroke average record.
Smith factored into the four-player team score in all nine of her tournament rounds while pacing the Irish with a 79.00 average, a half-stroke better than the record of 79.50 set by Katie King in 1997-98 (79.50).
“Shane worked through some swing problems and had great improvement over the summer,” says Smith of his acting team captain, who transferred from SMU prior to her sophomore season. “Shane won the fall campus championship and has gone on to be a great stabilizing force. She was a natural pick to be our interim captain because of the type of person she is and her work ethic. We’re really looking forward to her senior year, because she has the ability to vie for a spot in the NCAA tournament.”
Klein counted to the team score in six of her seven rounds while posting an 81.43 fall average, highlighted by a runner-up finish at the Butler Invitational after rounds of 72-78 for an eight-over 150. The native of nearby Kokomo, Ind., heads into the spring with an 82.23 career average, trailing only King’s 82.10 in the Irish record book.
“Mary has the talent to be a great player and her consistency and leadership will be important in the spring,” says Smith. “Mary still is looking for better ball-striking, but when she puts it all together she can make a run at par. We’re excited to have Mary and Shane be our senior leaders next year and they could finish with great careers before it’s all said and done.”
The absence of Klee and Cooper opened up tournament playing opportunities for several veterans and most of the newcomers. Most notably, sophomore Kristin McMurtrie and freshman Priscilla Ro firmly established themselves as members of the starting six while juniors Becca Schloss and Danielle Villarosa made steady contributions.
McMurtrie showed amazing consistency throughout the fall, when she counted to the team score in all 10 of her rounds, averaged 81.00 strokes and shot between 79 and 82 during every round.
Ro’s surprising fall included an 82.70 average and eight rounds counted to the team score. She led the Irish at the Michigan Invitational with rounds of 80-81-good for a share of 10th place and onw of the best showings by a Notre Dame golfer during the fall season.
Villarosa and Schloss each showed glimpses of their value to the squad. Villarosa posted a career-best 249 at the season-opening Lady Northern Invitational (held at the University of Wisconsin) while Schloss chipped in with her best outing of the season, after shooting rounds of 83 and 79 at the Butler Invitational.
Sophomore Lauren Fuchs and freshmen Terry Taibl both showed promise during tournament play, with the deep Irish roster also including senior Brigid Fisher, sophomores Jennifer Lynch and Sara Rabe and promising freshman Shelby Strong.
“Despite some setbacks, there were some high points this fall,” says Smith. “We put a lot of players in a competitive setting while veterans like Shane and Mary had the challenge of being team leaders as juniors. We also are encouraged by our strong effort in the final tournament. The players found their comfort level and started to believe in themselves, and we hope to carry on that level of play in the spring.”
The members of the Irish women’s golf program also are among many in the campus community who eagerly await the spring of 2000 opening of the Warren Golf Course, a championship-caliber facility located near the northeast corner of the Notre Dame campus.
“The new course already has made a big difference for the golf program,” says Smith, whose new office is located next to the two-sided driving range and practice greens. “Visitors to the course are amazed at the accessibility and location. It will be a great convenience for the players and will prepare them for the challenges that they face at the various tournaments. We are very excited for the future of this program and the Warren Golf Course will be a big part of that.”