We still may be two months out from seeing the green jacket bestowed upon the next winner at the Masters Golf Tournament, but Gonzaga women’s golf’s journey for its own championship is already in full swing.
The Zags recently kicked off their spring season, with hopes of it culminating in Scottsdale, Arizona, for the NCAA National Championship in late May.
For that to happen, the Bulldogs needs to obtain a bid from the NCAA. The most surefire way to do that is by taking home a team West Coast Conference title, a milestone the Zags are looking to accomplish for the first time in head coach Brad Rickel’s 15 seasons at GU.
On its way to the WCC Championships, the team has five matches scheduled, spanning from late January until early April.
“We’re excited for this season and we’re ready for it,” assistant coach Victoria Fallgren said. “We’re going to be in [Las] Vegas a couple times, Phoenix, the Bay Area and Maui. It’s going to be a really good mix of really strong tournaments and tournaments that we should be competing in.”
For the Zags to attain the level of success they’re seeking this season, they’re going to have to build on a foundation that’s been laid out over the past year.
After an uneven start to last year's spring season, GU ended it finishing the opening day of the WCC Tournament in first place, following an impressive third-place finish at the Red Rocks Invite in Arizona.
The Zags looked to improve on their late showings of excellence last season with a strong fall season, which can be hard when there’s an absence of tournaments for the team to compete in between seasons.
“Just getting the rust off, just getting back into the swing of things is something that we’re looking to do,” senior Jessica Mangrobang said. “Golf’s a mental game. As bad as your swing may be sometimes, you still have to go the right way about it. Course management is key for us whenever we’re trying to get into our groove.”
It didn’t appear to take long for the Zags to find their groove in the fall. They notched back-to-back tournament wins at The Coeur D’Alene Resort Collegiate Invitational and the Pat Lesser Harbottle Invitational in Seattle on Sept. 24 and Oct. 15.
For the Zags, the key is to transfer that success to this upcoming season, when the stakes and level of competition are higher.
“Last year’s WCCs were good to show that we can play and that we can hang. We knew that our group had that talent and it was nice for them to see that as well,” Fallgren said. “With this year’s group, the sky's the limit. The talent’s developed and in the fall, we showed that we can compete and succeed at a high level.”
That developing talent is going to be an essential factor and is what excites the team the most about this season.
An accomplished senior in Mangrobang is accompanied by sophomores Federica Torre and Quynn Duong, who, despite having only one full year under their belts, have already proven themselves to be valuable components to the team’s success.
As freshmen at last year’s WCC Championships, Torre finished 13th and Duong finished sixth. Duong also placed in the top five in four competitions last season, finished in the top five for a competition four times last spring and set a GU record by averaging 72.85 shots per round.
“[Duong] is definitely setting the pace for our team,” Fallgren said. “The team knows that that’s the level of golf that’s capable of being played at Gonzaga, so that’s been really nice to have.”
Duong has not shown any indication of a sophomore slump either. She recently placed fifth overall and second in the 19-23-year-old bracket at the Joanne Winter Arizona Silver Belle Championship to start this year.
The projected starting five is rounded out by the program’s two freshmen, Alyssa Nguyen and Cassie Kim. Both have displayed early on they can thrive against Division I competition. Nguyen tied with Mangrobang to finish third overall in Coeur D’Alene in the fall and Kim achieved her first top-10 finish in Seattle a few weeks later.
“This team is very young, there’s no juniors and when we travel, there’s four underclassmen,” Mangrobang said. “Just seeing them grow as a group, as individuals and as golfers, there’s a lot to improve upon and learn from experiencing tournament golf. So, just seeing how they adapt to what they see is going on with their game and then, improving upon it definitely seems to develop something more.”
Despite the individual nature of the sport, the entire team is going to have to find consistency if the Bulldogs wish to make a statement this season.
“From last year, we learned that while in a leading position, we need to keep our cool and just keep doing what we have been doing, not letting it go to our heads but also not letting it go,” Mangrobang said.
Despite already putting on displays of success that indicate this team is trending in the direction it wants to, the athletes still feel like their best golf is yet to come.
“There hasn’t been a time yet where all five of us playing felt like we all did really well,” Duong said. “I’m so excited for the time where we all come in and everyone feels good, and then, as a team, our score is way under [par].”
Given the nature of how collegiate golf tournaments are collectively scored for team placement, the ability for all the Zags to hit their stride at the same time will be pivotal in their journey to break records and bring some hardware back to GU.