Women's Golf Outlook: Sun Devils Ready to Defend National Title

Sept. 1, 2009

The Arizona State women's golf 2008-09 season ended with the women's golf team racing down to then-senior Azahara Munoz on the 18th green after she sank her last putt, confirming the fact that the Sun Devils had won their first NCAA Championship in 11 years and seventh overall. There were hugs everywhere and happy tears running down the faces of the players and coaches alike. The Sun Devils celebrated a bit at the NGCA Awards Banquet where both coaches and four players were awarded for their accomplishments throughout the season. Then, the following day, everyone left for their respective homes.

'It was odd,' said 2009 National Coach of the Year Melissa Luellen. 'We won this championship and hadn't really had a chance to celebrate it.'

Due to this, the Sun Devils spent a good portion of the first team meeting, reliving that moment.

'We're happy to have the team back together, to talk about it and celebrate it again,' said Luellen. 'Then, we move forward and we take it one tournament at a time.'

The Sun Devils will take it one tournament at a time; especially considering the fact only two players on the ten-woman roster have spent more than one semester at ASU. Only seniors, Liisa Kelo and Juliana Murcia, have been at ASU for more than one year. Despite that fact, Luellen believes the competitiveness that is sure to occur within the team will help make the Sun Devils better and give them a greater chance to defend their national title.

'Nobody will be able to just rest on their laurels,' said Luellen. 'Yes we did it once, but the hardest thing to do is to back it up and do it again.'

Coming off the best season of her collegiate career, Murcia was arguably the NCAA's most improved player in 2008-09. The native of Bogota, Colombia earned her first medalist honors at the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge and collected Second-Team All-American honors at the NGCA Awards banquet. With four top 10 finishes, Murcia shot a stroke average of 73.29.

'July could be a First-Team All-American,' said Luellen. 'Her game is there and I'm pretty sure that is one of her goals this season.'

Kelo, a fifth-year senior, returns to the team after playing in five tournaments last season. The hard-working player actually graduated last December and is currently pursuing a second degree.

'Liisa works as hard as anybody and certainly comes in with a great attitude,' said Luellen. 'She's a leader by example that way.'

The team's level of experience as Sun Devils dips off following the two seniors. The team's lone junior, Jaclyn Sweeny, transferred to ASU last spring. She started in all eight tournaments in the spring semester, finishing in the top 20 twice, including an 11th place finish at the NCAA Championships. In fact, her third round score of 69 was the one that got the Sun Devils back in the hunt for the national title.

'Jackie is such a driven and goal-oriented player,' said Luellen. 'She will be an important key for us this year because she is now one of our top players. Bouncing off her performance at nationals and coming in with a fresh, full year of two semesters will be really good for Jackie.'

One of the top players in the nation, Carlota Ciganda will enter the 2009-10 season as a returning First-Team All-American. Despite only coming to school January, Ciganda quickly adjusted to collegiate play as she won two tournaments, including the Pac-10 Championship, and finished the season ranked second by Golfweek and third in the Golf Stat Cup. She recorded six top 10 finishes and placed no lower than 14th in any tournament.

'Carlota should be First-Team All-American again and has the chance to be Player of the Year; she couldn't get much closer than she did last year to that,' said Luellen on her sophomore star. 'Carlota could get better and that is the encouraging part. She hit a peak at Pac-10s last year, but she has better golf ahead of her with more consistent low scores.'

The second sophomore on the team will be Giulia Molinaro. The good-hearted and fun-loving Italian was a member of the Sun Devil lineup four times her freshman year and competed as individual in one. She shot even par at the UCF Challenge to reclaim her lineup spot and finish a season-best 19th. This season, she looks to fight for a spot back in the lineup after losing it before the postseason last year.

'For her to be the No. 6 person was heartbreaking for Giulia,' said Luellen. 'I know she is very hungry to be in that top five and she is going to have to work.'

The 2009-10 women's golf team will boast five freshmen this season, making the squad total 10. With three scholarship athletes and two walk-ons, the newest Sun Devils have come to school with enthusiastic attitudes and are ready to work.

'One of the [now] freshmen said to me after we won last year `Coach, I smell a dynasty!'' said Luellen. 'I like the attitude the freshmen are coming in with it. All of the freshmen are looking forward to practicing with the team and learning how to practice more efficiently.'

One of the stars of the amateur tournaments this summer, Jennifer Johnson, will join the Sun Devil squad. Johnson, whose hometown of La Quinta, Calif., is a mere four hours away from Tempe, recently wrapped up a tremendous summer where she finished runner-up at the U.S. Amateur and had a quarterfinal appearance at the U.S. Junior Championship. Having been on the road since early June, Luellen does not expect to see the talented freshman's best golf in the fall.

'Jen is so excited to come to school but she is absolutely exhausted and needs some transition time,' said Luellen. 'I think Jen will play good golf in the fall and I think she will play great golf in the spring. It might just take her a little time.'

The Sun Devils welcome their second Italian to the team. The daughter of John Knight, a former Sun Devil football player, Alessia Knight has been a lifelong Sun Devil fan and signing her letter of intent to play golf here was a dream come true for the dual citizen.

'Alessia has solid fundamentals, is a good competitor and has a great never-give-up attitude,' said Luellen. 'The first day I watched her play, really struggled but came back the next day and played great. That come-back attitude she has is a real asset to her and she keeps it really positive.'

The Sun Devils third scholarship player is Larissa Eruera from Auckland, New Zealand. The Kiwi won several tournaments in her home country and finished runner-up in New Zealand's Amateur in 2008.

'The coaches were kind of fighting over Larissa when we saw her at Junior Worlds,' said Luellen. 'She has gotten a lot more fit since she came her on her recruiting trip and is excited to start playing again because our seasons are opposite.'

In addition to three scholarship freshman, Luellen has also welcomed two walk-ons to the team this season. Local product Rebecca Schneider and Norwegian native Marie Simonsen will join the team.

'Once Rebecca gets stronger physically, her golf will improve,' said Luellen. 'Her role is to challenge the other players and work harder than anybody on the team.'

Although not recruited out of high school, Simonsen will also work hard to improve her golf and be a strong teammate. Luellen has already dubbed the Norwegian as the team's little ray of sunshine.

'She is tall and athletic with a great personality,' said Luellen on Simonsen. 'She will be a nice addition to the team and will be someone that wants to get better and will work hard to get it.'

The Sun Devils will start to defend their title in Japan at the TOPY Cup. As usual, the Sun Devils will have one of the toughest schedules in collegiate golf. Despite the challenge it is to win back-to-back national titles, Luellen thinks her team is ready for it.

'It's fun to win and this group is a bunch of winners,' said Luellen. 'I absolutely think we have a chance to defend it.'

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