By Kevin Culwell
Arizona Daily Wildcat September 19, 1996
The Arizona women's golf team, with four of five starters returning from last year's national championship team, is poised to make a run at defending that title as it begins its season today at the Dick McGuire Invitational in Albuquerque, N.M.
Expectations are running high for this team, a far cry from a year ago when the Wildcats surprised many by winning the championship.
"Everything had to go right for us last year to win and it did," assistant coach Tom Brill said. "These girls understand there is much room for improvement."
Sophomore Marisa Baena and junior Heather Graff will both lead the charge this year.
Baena, who was named national player of the year last season, won the individual title at the NCAA championship by seven strokes. She also eagled in sudden death from 147 yards to help defeat San Jose State for the team championship.
"I think we have a great chance to win nationals this year," Baena said.
"She's the best amateur player in the world today," said Brill, who is entering his third year as assistant coach.
Graff, who sunk the clinching putt at the NCAAs for Arizona, won the United States Public Links Championship in Illinois this summer and returns with a lot of confidence.
"I think she'll be the most improved player in college golf this year," Brill said. "That was a huge step for her to win a major championship like that."
Also returning are sophomore Krissie Register and junior Christina Tolerton, both of whom contributed greatly to last year's triumph.
Brill hailed Register, who was an honorable mention All America last year, as the "Larry Bird of college golf."
"She's not technically the most gifted player, but she gets it done because she has a heart the size of a watermelon," he said. "You need somebody like that on your team."
Tolerton, who qualified for the U.S. Open over the summer, will give the UA even more experience as it shoots for consecutive championships.
Three freshmen who were American Junior Golf Association All-Americas last year join the four returnees.
"We'll be a much stronger team because we have a lot more depth," head coach Rick LaRose said. "The three freshmen are very good, but we need to see how they play under pressure."
Jill Gomric, Jenna Daniels and Shannon Ingalls will compete for the fifth spot on the starting team, but everyone will likely see action at some point this year, LaRose said.
The team and its coaches are confident of their chances of winning another championship.
"We weren't expected to win it last year," Graff said. "I'm not sure people truly think we can do it again. We want to prove last year was no fluke."