I don't often talk about ladies' golf here, but there haven't been many opportunities to talk about Purdue defending a National Championship. The last time was the spring of 2000 when the women's basketball team fell in the second round of the NCAA's to Oklahoma. Next week our women's golf team will defend its 2010 National Championship, and unlike the lady Boilers of 2000, they have a very legitimate shot of making it two in a row.
This is the 12th straight season that our women's golf team has qualified for the Championships, but recently they have been a threat to win the entire thing. They have a team runner-up to their credit (in 2007), a top 5 (2008) an individual title (Maria Hernandez) and last year's National title. Head coach Devon Brouse has built a program that bucks the trend in college golf, as Purdue is the only "cold weather" school to win a title.
The reason Purdue has an excellent chance at repeating comes from its returning cast. Maude-Aimee LeBlanc, Numa Gulyanamitta, Thea Hoffmeister, Paula Reto, and Laura Gonzalez-Escallon all return from the quintet that participated in last year's NCAA final. All five participated in last week's NCAA East Regional, where Purdue was the #2 seed and finished sixth to qualify for next week's championships. Gonzalez-Escallon had the best individual score, finishing sixth overall with a one over par 217.
Part of what makes Purdue great is that everyone is evenly balanced. LeBlanc had the lowest score of the championships last year, while the other three have had their turns at the top. There are few weak links with this squad. During the fall season they started a little rough with a 10th place finish at the Fall Preview in Bryan, TX (where the NCAA Championships will be played), but they won the Windy City Collegiate Classic and the Lady Northern Invitational. In the spring they wont he Administaff Lady Jaguar Intercollegiate in Augusta, GA and the Battle at Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego.
They have two other second place finishes this spring, including the Big Ten Championships a few weeks ago. At the Big Ten's Gulyanamitta was the individual medalist, but Michigan State edged them by five strokes for the team title.
Purdue heads to the NCAA's ranked 4th nationally, so they will likely get a favorable starting position against the field. Last year's runner-up USC is ranked #1, but Purdue beat the Trojans and #2 UCLA at the Tournament in San Diego. #3 Alabama beat them by 8 strokes at a Tournament in Athens, GA just before the Big Ten championships, so Purdue is very familiar with its competition.
Next week's championship begin on Wednesday the 18th and will go for four rounds. Purdue made its move on day 3 last year when a third round 280 allowed them to pick up at least 10 strokes on the rest of the field and 15 against eventual runner-up USC. Consistency is also a key, as Purdue's four rounds were all within 15 strokes of each other.
Finally, our team is practically the United Nations of golf, and they have been incredibly successful during their careers. Gulyanamitta (Thailand), Leblanc (Canada), and Hoffmeister (Germany) are graduating this year. Gonzalez-Escallon (Belgium) and Reto (South Africa) are sophomores that should continue their stellar careers for two more seasons. Kishi Sinha (India) and Emily Pearce (Texas, which is practically its own country at this point) round out the roster. Most importantly, this group has done exceptionally well in the classroom. Hoffmeister was an All-American Scholar last season. The team is also regularly rated as having the top cumulative GPA for any athletic program at Purdue.
So let's wish our ladies luck next week. It is time to defend the title.