PJ Brown Special to the Arizona Daily Star
Laura Ianello knows something that her opponents don’t.
The Wildcats Women’s golf team has what it takes to win it all.
True, now coaches probably think their squad could be Champions, but it’s different when Ianello says it because she’s won before – as a UA player (2000) and Coach (2018).
Last May, Arizona surprised everyone and made it to the national semifinals at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale – on a long putt from the edge of the green by Gile Bite Starkute that stunned Stanford in the quarterfinals.
Could the Wildcats make a long run again?
They’ll find out starting Monday at a three-day NCAA regional in Albuquerque. The top four teams from each of the six regions will advance to the national championships.
The Wildcats look a little different as both of the Hou Sisters – Vivian and Yu-Sang – moved onto the professional Ranks after Qualifying at LPGA Q school in December. But Ianello thinks that it’s the makeup of this year’s squad that gives them an edge.
People are also reading…
“These women they show up every day,” Ianello said. “And it’s sometimes if they’re tired, if they don’t feel like it, they’re still there and they’re still grinding, they’re pushing through. You’re doing all of the small things very, very well. And at the end of the season, which is to be at the time that we Peak,
“I think it’s because we’re consistent. These women know what hard work is. They know what it takes. I think that’s what pushes us through, and I think with our success – even before 2018 win – we know what postseason means and “How fun it is to be there. And to win and to do great things, because that’s what it is. It’s a lot of fun.”
Arizona was the only school in the country to make the semifinals in three consecutive years – winning in 2018 and making it to the semifinals in 2019 and 2021. The event was canceled in 2020 because of the Pandemic.
Ianello always has his team ready for postseason play. After finishing fifth in the Pac-12 Championships following the up-and-down regular season, UA may be a bit of a question mark.
“We’re so underestimated right now,” Ianello said.
“I know a lot of my other Pac-12 coaches, they give me crap. They will say I sprinkle fairy dust on my team in the postseason, ”Ianello said. “But, my Pac-12 rivals, they are nervous. They see us in the postseason, and they know. But I think SEC schools and Big Ten (schools), they look at us like, ‘Oh, they lost their best players, they’re not even a Threat. Right? ‘ That to me is exciting. because I’m like, ‘Let’s show what we got. Let’s see what we can do. ‘ I don’t mind being an underdog at all. ”
UA had a rough first day at the Pac-12 Championships, and was tied for ninth after the opening round. After a pep talk from Ianello, they climbed back over the next two days.
“Everybody around the lunch table was heads down low. Everybody acted like the tournament was over. And I just was like, ‘You know what, guys?’ I said, ‘Do I wish I had played better today? Yes. ‘ But, at the end of the day, these are young kids and they’re pursuing a dream. They work really, really hard, ”Ianello said.
“And sometimes you are going to shoot 17-over, but I think as a Coach we have a huge responsibility to make sure that our environment is always encouraging, always uplifting, and that we always have belief. Because the moment that I think a young person feels there’s no belief or feel there’s no encouragement, that’s when I think you start to see a bad environment. “
Senior Ya Chung Chang is the player who keeps the team Loose with her Jokes. She is also giving the Younger Golfers tips about how to approach big tournaments like the NCAAs, like how to have fun at this time of year.
“Otherwise, we will give ourselves too much pressure and then your ball striking, everything just being unnatural, not consistent because your emotions up and down too much,” Chang said.
A junior leader, Starkute is quick to share everything from trying to take 10 minutes for herself each day to her mental prep for NCAAs.
The Wildcats have played on the Championship Golf Course in Albuquerque before, and know what to expect. It plays similar to Tucson Country Club and that’s why UA practiced there leading up to the tournament. It has big greens and is “forgiving off the tee.”
“I’m one of the courses in town that actually has some rough because I genuinely feel like when we get to Albuquerque, they’re going to have some thicker rough,” Ianello said. “I think our grass here is starting to become a little bit more dormant, not as thick and so we need to make sure we’re playing and practicing in places that have rough around the greens. Fast, firm conditions similar to our Fairways that we see. ”
A few Wildcats also played at The Gallery to get used to elevated greens that they will see. They also went to Albuquerque a day early to get a practice round in – just to see how far their ball flies in the extra elevation. Albuquerque is 3,000 feet higher than Tucson.
UA is the No. 4 seed at the regional. Other teams in Albuquerque include No. 1 seed Oregon, no. 2 seed Florida, no. 3 seed Texas, no. 5 seed Georgia and No. 11 seed NAU. The national championships begin May 20 at Grayhawk.
Arizona has high expectations heading into the NCAAs, but no matter what happens this week, Ianello said that this has been one of the most “gratifying and fun seasons” in her coaching career.
“Gosh, it’s just been one of the most successful seasons I’ve ever had just because I’ve seen the changes that we’ve made from the fall to the beginning of spring, to now looking at the end of spring, I just see the progression that we’ve made, ”Ianello said. “This is definitely one of the more rewarding seasons that I’ve ever had. At least it feels that way to me like I feel like we’re doing all the right things… without the results. ”