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Women's golf swings for national championship


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Women's golf swings for national championship**

The fall season just doesn't matter, and the women's golf team can certainly attest to that fact.

In the fall of '92 the Blue Devils played fantastic golf and the team reached the No. 2 spot in the NCAA poll. Duke even coasted through most of the ensuing spring season as the team captured the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. But then came the NCAA regionals.

On paper the Blue Devils boasted an incredibly talented squad and carried the nation's second best scoring average into the tournament. But disaster struck the women's golf team that weekend, and Duke failed to qualify for the national finals.

"Everyone on the team will never forget that," senior Tonya Blosser said. "It was humiliating. We felt like we let ourselves down. No matter how well you play all year, it comes down to that tournament."

No doubt about it, the Blue Devils learned their lesson the hard way. And with last season's experience in the back of the players' minds, the golfers took a different approach to this past fall.

"Every year, the fall [season] is great, and the spring is not as good," junior Pam Soliman said. "We tried to de-emphasize [this past] fall and use it to set a strong basis. We're all anxious for the [spring] season to start."

In their minds the players may have de-emphasized the fall, but you wouldn't know it by looking at the results. The team captured one tournament title, finished in the top four in three others, and will begin the spring season ranked fourth in the country.

"I think the fall season really gave us a lot of confidence that we needed," junior All-America Stephanie Sparks said. "We finally realized that we are one of the top teams in the country, and we can compete with teams in the West. It has given us a new outlook."

In their run for a national title, the Blue Devils will have to get past two major obstacles -- Arizona State and San Jose State. In Hilton Head last November, the Blue Devils got a good look at their fiercest competitors. When all was said and done, Arizona State wrecked the tournament field en route to a 20-stroke victory. Duke placed third, one stroke behind Texas, but the Blue Devils finished a dozen strokes ahead of San Jose State.

"It was the culmination of a really good fall," head coach Dan Brooks said. "The whole time we were playing, we were conscious of two teams -- San Jose State and ASU. I think as we went along, the team realized these are the two teams we've got to be ready to beat.

"Pound-for-pound, inch-for-inch, physically we're a match with both teams. In any given tournament, we can win. I think it would be a grueling knock-down, drag-out with both of them."

This Duke team knows exactly what it's up against. So far there haven't been any surprises, and the players are hoping it stays that way.

For starters, the core of last spring's travelling lineup is back in tact. Sparks and Blosser have led the team with consistently excellent golf, and sophomores Jamie Koizumi and Katharina Poppmeier bring back last year's experiences in addition to their steady improvement throughout the fall.

Sparks topped the team in scoring with some phenomenal golf last year, including a second-place finish at the ACC championships. She proved herself as one of the country's finest amateur golfers this past summer and was named to the Curtis Cup team just a few weeks ago.

"I think Steph and Tonya are going to play golf with a vengeance this spring," Brooks said. "If I had to pick anybody to respond in a positive way [to adversity], I'd pick those two. And I see [Koizumi] and [Poppmeier] both playing better golf. [Poppmeier] has a ways to go, but she's a very talented player. She's become more comfortable here and knows I expect a lot out of her. Jamie's come a long way."

Brooks also said there is still competition for the final spot on the travelling roster, primarily between Soliman and Edith DeKock. But Soliman held the spot towards the end of the fall and is likely to do most of the travelling this season. That means the core of the team has been together for over a year now.

"When you're feeling good about the people you're spending time with, I think it has an effect," Blosser said. "It's really important for us since there's such a good feeling on the team we have. You work better and I think you play better when the team is cohesive. It makes a difference."

The sole on-the-course problem that Duke has had to deal with is the course itself. The Duke golf course is currently under construction, and the golf teams have had to travel between 15 and 30 minutes to practice. But the course's driving range and practice green are intact, and that should help the women fine tune the weakest part of their game.

"It's all completely in our hands," Brooks said. "It's a question of how much time [they're] going to spend working on getting the ball in the hole. We're really going to emphasize the short game."

"We think of ourselves as one of the best teams in the country," Soliman said. "Last year was like a slap in the face. When we get [to Oregon], the question will be are we going to win, not will we get there."


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