Despite win, golfer Baena keeps ego at bay

By Jacinda Sweet

Arizona Daily Wildcat

When it comes to women's golf, Arizona is one of the top schools in the country. And one reason for its success is recruiting athletes like freshman Maria Baena.

Baena's journey began about 14 years ago in Pereria, Colombia, where she worked toward becoming one of the young stars in the college ranks.

Two weeks ago at the Dick McGuire Invitational Tournament in Albuquerque, N.M., Baena won her first collegiate tournament in only her second try.

For most freshmen, it would have been one for the scrapbooks, but for Baena, it was merely another contest.

"I feel like it's just one more tournament, something that is going to get me more experience," Baena said. "Just because I won, I don't think I'm the best. I just think it will help me get better for the next tournament."

With English as her second language, Baena, 18, had personal reasons for attending Arizona. Coaches became aware of her talents when UA golfer Jullian Serrano, of Calle, Colombia, told them of his friendship with Baena.

"Jullian informed us about Maria during the AJGA Rolex Championship at La Paloma," UA assistant golf coach Tom Brill said.

"We took a look at her and thought she was very impressive."

Baena, who had been friends with Serrano for six years, said she knew she would have someone to rely on at Arizona.

"He's one of the main reasons I came," Baena said. "I knew he was going to be here for me if I needed help."

Baena, a freshman, said she had been around golf all her life. Much like teammate Heather Graff, Baena's parents were a big influence on her.

"My mom and dad loved playing golf," Baena said. "When I was little they'd take me to the country club with my older sister."

Baena's older sister doesn't play anymore, but her 15-year-old sister could give her a run for her money.

"My younger sister is a really good player," Baena said. "Many say she is going to be better than me, so we're going to try to bring her to the U of A."

The Wildcat coaching staff probably would be happy about that, especially if Baena's sister possesses some of the same golf skills.

"Baena hits the ball very far and is very powerful for being 5-foot-4-inches and 140 pounds," Brill said. "She has a tremendous amount of clubhead speed, and she's a solid hitter. She hits it further than some of the guys on the men's team."

After finishing eighth in the Rolex Fall Preview, Baena said she was happy with her play, but said she thought she made some mental mistakes.

Baena is a physical force on the course, but she said she also realizes golf is a game that requires a lot of concentration, which is a reason for her recent success at the Dick McGuire Invitational.

"The mental game of golf is very important," UA mental strength coordinator Jeff Janssen said. "You have a lot of time between shots where you can either think thoughts that will help for the next shot, or think thoughts that will destroy you."

"After the first tournament, I just worked on my swing and my mental concentration," Baena said. "In the last tournament, I went there with a lot of confidence. My mental game was much better, and I made less mistakes."

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