Brooks: Wallace, Buffs Energized For NCAA Nationals
BOULDER - Four years ago, Colorado women's golf coach Anne Kelly believed she had a better than average shot at signing an up-and-coming, fiercely competitive Canadian junior named Jess Wallace.
But after she had made an official visit to Boulder and before she signed on CU's dotted line, Wallace cruised down the west coast from her home in Vancouver, B.C., and visited Pepperdine.
Everything about the Waves (no pun intended) swept her away - and Kelly wasn't surprised. "If I'm a 17-year-old kid and get a look at that campus, could I pass that up?" Kelly asked. "Who wouldn't want to go to Pepperdine?"
Fair question, but in Wallace's case there's an intriguing follow-up: After consecutive seasons of being selected to the All-West Coast Conference first-team, why didn't she want to stay at the stunningly picturesque California school?
Simple reason, really. Pepperdine might have had everything that money couldn't buy, but it wasn't "the right fit" for Wallace.
So two years after initially recruiting her, Kelly caught Wallace on the rebound, landing her as a junior transfer last year and plugging her into what has become a remarkable renaissance for CU women's golf. It took a bit longer, but the wait has paid handsomely.
Pepperdine, noted Wallace, "was very different, really the polar opposite of Colorado . . . the school vibe, the campus, the entire student body. But really, the biggest thing for me was golf. I just wasn't improving to the extent necessary to take my game to the next level."
Wallace, who had grown up loving soccer just as much as golf (maybe even more) until honing in on her current sport, isn't a "settler." She pushes, pushes and then goes a little past that to improve. Rather than being told she could figure out how to improve her game, she wanted specifics from her coaches.
So she sought out CU, specifically Kelly and assistant coach Brent Franklin, a fellow Canadian who was acquainted with Wallace's teaching pro in British Columbia.
"Brent was really the main reasons we got her," Kelly said. "She was looking for some help in her game and she knew he could help her make improvements . . . plus, it gave Brent someone to talk hockey with."
The discussions with Franklin about their beloved Canucks aside, Wallace said her move to CU "has been everything I wanted and more. The way the team turned out the last couple of years, how much I've learned . . . it's the best decision I could have made.
"I didn't feel like my game in general was progressing. I didn't have a strong foundation and wasn't mentally prepared for tournaments . . . I'm being told now what I need to work on (by Kelly and Franklin). I can't give them enough credit."
Her impact at CU was immediate. Wallace set nearly every seasonal school record as a junior and was named the Big 12 Conference's Newcomer of the Year as well as earning first-team all-league honors. After placing fourth in last week's NCAA West Regional, Wallace and the Buffs are heading this weekend to Franklin, Tenn., and the NCAA Nationals. It's CU's first trip to the Big Tee; practice rounds are scheduled Sunday and Monday with competition beginning Tuesday.
Wallace hasn't played the Legends Golf Club course outside Nashville, but she and her teammates have a scouting report from sophomore Alex Stewart, a transfer from Purdue who is somewhat familiar with the course. Plus, Kelly has gotten a heads up from CU men's golf coach Roy Edwards, who was an assistant coach at Vanderbilt and routinely saw the Legends course.
Wallace and the Buffs believe they can be more than merely competitive in the event. "I think so," she said. "We're very pumped up after the regionals . . . we've proven we can beat the top teams in country. If play one through five like we're capable, I can't see why we won't make some noise."
The Buffs were loud and proud in the final round of last weekend's regional competition at Colorado National Golf Club. Mired in a two-way tie for ninth and being one spot away from championship qualification, CU got under-par rounds from all five golfers - a program first - on the final day and stormed into the finals.
Wallace fired one of her team's three one-under-par 71s, a welcome reversal after a pair of 75s to open regional play. The final hole of her second day brought a second shot into the water and ultimately a double bogey. It was a turning point - and a boiling point - for Wallace.
"Oh, yeah, she was mad," Kelly recalled. "She felt like she'd let herself and her team down . . . you knew she was going to come back strong the next day."
Wallace did, as did her teammates, and she pointed to Friday's final hole as her personal catalyst for Saturday's final round. "That last hole on Friday pushed me over the edge," she said. "I have a bit of a temper; I show my emotions on my face. I used (the final hole) to motivate me. But we all knew we had to buckle down and not let it happen again.
"We all knew we hadn't played well as a group, not on our home course. We had not performed as a team and I didn't perform the way I wanted to."
On the final hole of Saturday's round, Franklin approached Wallace on the tee and informed her, "Right now, we're one shot back."
Wallace was focused, dialed in on her game. Her initial reaction: "One shot back of who?"
When Franklin told her the Buffs had rallied to within a shot the lead, Wallace almost dropped her club. Then Franklin told her that her one-under-par total probably was going to be the score that was discarded (the high score among the five is tossed) - something that had never happened in CU women's golf.
Said Wallace: "I was really, really shocked. It was just amazing that everyone put together a round like that. It's still something we'll always remember."
More memories can be made next week in middle Tennessee. The Buffs' excitement is palpable, but Kelly doesn't believe it's producing the kind of pressure one might associate with a first-time NCAA Championship trip. The real pressure came last weekend when the Buffs hosted the NCAA regional and were expected to qualify on their home course.
"The pressure's off," Kelly said. "Probably no one there (at the nationals) expects Colorado to do a whole lot. But I know and the team knows we can give anyone a run for the money if we play like we did at regionals . . . if we relax and play like we did on the final day of the regionals and like we're capable, who knows?"