2002-03 Sun Devil Women's Golf Outlook
Feb. 10, 2003
TEMPE, Ariz. - To Arizona State head coach Melissa McNamara Luellen, success is about where you finish, not where you start.
And Luellen certainly hopes that her first year at the helm of the Sun Devil women's golf program will be judged by where her team finishes. After a rocky start that saw the team finish last in its first outing and notch just one top 10 showing in its first four tournaments, Luellen, who came to ASU after leading the University of Tulsa to back-to-back Western Athletic Conference and NCAA West Regional titles, has all but guaranteed that her team will be the most improved squad in the country at season's end.
'I certainly don't think we will finish where we started,' said Luellen, who was named the sixth head coach in the history of the program in July. 'This team is comprised of too many competitive and talented people. They are embarrassed about their play in the fall, and they are pumped about the spring. Everyone loves a challenge. I think that having three coaches in three years has been difficult thing for the players, and we also have six newcomers, so it has taken some time for adjustment for everyone.'
With a roster that features three seniors, one junior, three sophomores and four true freshmen, Luellen, a four-time All-American and the 1988 NCAA champion at Tulsa, knows that her team has a combination of experience, talent, enthusiasm and competitive fire that should serve them well in the spring. The Sun Devils turned in third-place showing in their last tournament of the fall, the Landfall Tradition, momentum that Luellen hopes her team will carry into the spring season.
'Our strength comes in numbers,' Luellen said. 'We have 11 girls on the team, and qualifying is very competitive. I think this keeps everyone on their toes. Our seniors are great leaders, and they will be missed next year. The traveling team has changed every tournament so far this year, and our underclassmen are pushing the upperclassmen. I'm really pleased with the dynamics of this team.'
According to Luellen, one of the biggest keys to success in the spring will be the Sun Devils' ability to settle in and enjoy themselves.
'We are working on having more 'fun' on the course during play,' she said. 'Our players have come through a semester of qualifying and competition. Golf is a hard game, but it is a game, and you are supposed to have fun playing the game. Competition can bring out good and bad things, and the competitive environment during qualifying can be smothering. If our players can come to the course knowing they are going to have fun, then attitudes turn around, a special atmosphere is created, and their natural ability comes out.'
The 2002-03 Sun Devil team features three seniors, and headlining that trio is two-time honorable-mention All-Pac-10 selection Blair O'Neal (Phoenix, Ariz.). O'Neal earned three top 10 finishes last season. She turned in the best stroke average of the fall and had two top 20 finishes, including a tie for eighth at the Landfall Tradition, success Luellen believes will serve O'Neal well as she wraps up her successful college career.
'Blair is one of the most talented players on the team,' Luellen said. 'She had a couple of good finishes in the fall, but I see bigger and better things for Blair in the future. When she decides to believe she is a great player, I expect to see some trophies for her and a great finish to her career.'
Senior Gaï¿½lle Truet (New Caledonia) also returns for her final season in Tempe after joining the team last year as a transfer from Northern Arizona University. Truet earned honorable-mention All-Pac-10 honors last season, playing in all 12 tournaments and turning in a pair of top 10 finishes. Although Truet struggled a bit in the fall, Luellen knows that she will be ready to end her Sun Devil career in style.
'Gaï¿½lle's evil twin decided to play for the Sun Devils this fall,' Luellen said. 'She has put a tremendous amount of pressure on herself to play well her senior year, but I fully expect to see the old Gaï¿½lle in the spring.'
Rounding out ASU's trio of seniors is Melanie Hunt, a Phoenix native who is in her third year with the program after transferring from Texas Tech. Hunt cracked the top 25 in five tournaments last season and appeared in two this fall. Although Hunt has been limited by health problems, Luellen sees her as someone who can definitely make a big impact down the stretch this spring.
'Melanie has struggled with her health so much in the past two years. She is a great ball striker and has helped us even in poor health,' Luellen said. 'I hope she gets healthy for the spring. Melanie could be the player that makes a difference for us.'
Gustafsson, the next in the line of stellar Swedish players for ASU, heads into the 2002-03 season looking to build on the experience she got during her rookie campaign. She played in eight tournaments last season, mostly as an individual, and turned in one top 20 showing. This fall, she made three appearances and wrapped up the fall slate with a tie for 20th at the Landfall Tradition, success and improvement that Luellen hopes Gustafsson and the team will continue this spring.
'Josefin is one of the better ball strikers on the team,' Luellen said. 'She has all of the tools to be a great player, and the more she competes, the better she will be. Josefin thrives on competition and represents Arizona State very well.'
Tone returns for her sophomore year after playing in 10 of ASU's 12 events last year as a true freshman. A two-time East Valley Player of the Year from Gilbert, Tone turned in four top 15 showings last year, including a tie for 12th at the Pac-10 Championships. According to Luellen, Tone, who played in three events this fall, has been working hard to improve her game heading into the spring.
'Erin is so talented, and she will see action in the spring,' Luellen said. 'She kills the ball off the tee and has a wonderful touch around the greens. Erin is working on her shot selection and experimenting with various options around the greens. When she has a deeper arsenal, you will see some low numbers from Erin.'
Joining ASU's five returners are six newcomers who used the fall season to adjust to life in Tempe. According to Luellen, the six new players, a group that includes four true freshmen, should be ready to make big contributions this spring and well into the future.
Beatriz 'Cucu' Conti (Caracas, Venezuela) is the lone junior among the Sun Devil newcomers. Conti transferred to ASU from Mesa (Ariz.) Community College where she led her team to back-to-back conference and regional titles. She made one appearance in the fall and looks to make a bigger contribution this spring.
'When Cucu decides to play more aggressively, her scores will come down,' Luellen said. 'She is a delight to have on the team and brightens everyone's day when they see Cucu because she is forever smiling.'
Joining Conti on the team is another transfer in sophomore Jamie Michaud (University Place, Wash.) who comes to ASU from the University of Washington where she was on the Husky squad but did not play.
'Jamie is a very strong ball striker and fairly new to the game,' Luellen said. 'She has been working very hard and is excited about being eligible to play in the spring. Jamie adds competitiveness to our team.'
Rounding out the group of Sun Devil newcomers is a group of four true freshmen. First on the list of newcomers are Meredith and Sara Jones, no relation. Meredith Jones comes to ASU from Eugene, Ore., where she was a three-time state champion and led her Marist High School team to five straight Oregon state high school titles. She made two appearances for the Sun Devils in the fall, turning in her best effort with a 19th-place finish at the NAU Lumberjack Invitational.
Sara Jones hails from Hart High School in Valencia, Calif., where she was a three-time all-league selection and team MVP. Jones made three fall appearances and turning in the second-best stroke average on the team. She finished second at the Lumberjack Invitational, two strokes off the lead, and turned in the second top 10 showing of her young career with a tie for eighth at the Landfall Tradition.
'Meredith is a freshman with lots of heart and desire. With some work on her swing, she will see some action in the future,' she said. 'Sara is another good ball striker. As her confidence has improved, so have her scores. Sara had two top 10 finishes this fall, and I look for her to be a major factor on the team this spring.'
Alissa Kuczka rounds out the complement of four Sun Devils who hail from the Valley of the Sun. A two-time state individual champion and two-time Arizona High School Player of the Year at Xavier College Preparatory Academy in Phoenix, Kuczka led her Xavier team to 5A state titles in each of her four seasons as a prep. This fall, she made an immediate impact for the Sun Devils as one of just two players to appear in all four fall events, turning in two top 25 showings. Kuczka was the team's top finisher at two tournaments including a seventh-place showing at the Landfall Tradition.
'Alissa is a wonderful competitor and was very solid for us in the fall,' Luellen said. 'She is working on increasing her strength as she would benefit from more yardage in her long game.'
Last but not least in ASU's group of true freshmen is Danelle Perata who comes to Tempe from Vacaville (Calif.) High School. Perata was a three-sport star at Vacaville, earning league MVP honors in golf in each of her last three seasons in addition to being an all-league selection in basketball and tennis during her prep career. Perata, whose twin sister, Katie, is a freshman on ASU's water polo team, missed the fall season with an injury but looks to contribute in the spring.
'Danelle has been injured from the day she arrived on campus, but she has been totally dedicated to her rehabilitation and has worked like crazy on her short game since she is not allowed to make full swings,' Luellen said. 'Everything happens for a reason and I know Danelle will return to action with a big bang!'
The Sun Devils will play in four regular-season tournaments this spring, starting with the TRW Regional Challenge on Feb. 10-12 in Palos Verdes, Calif., and wrapping up with their own PING/ASU Invitational April 4-6 at Karsten Golf Course. The team them turns its eyes to the postseason, starting with the Pac-10 Championships on April 24-26 in Corvallis, Ore. The Sun Devils host to the NCAA West Regional May 8-10 where they will attempt to qualify for their 12th straight NCAA Championships, which will be held May 20-23 at the Kampen Course of Purdue's Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex in West Lafayette, Ind.