Sep 6, 2013
WACO, Texas -
Baylor women's golf returns five of its top six players from last year's team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the 12th time in program history and missed out on its third trip to the NCAA Championship by just one stroke. With so much experience returning, the Lady Bears are ranked No. 19 in Golfweek's preseason poll.
Head coach Jay Goble enters his third year at Baylor in 2013-14. He led the Baylor to its second all-time NCAA Championship appearance in 2012, and the Lady Bears narrowly missed out on a return trip in 2013 when they finished in ninth place at the NCAA West Regional - just one stroke back of a trio of teams that advanced to the Championship.
"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and with the way we finished off the year - a lot of people would look at it as a very successful year, but I would say it was a moderately successful year, and just a year of near misses," Goble said. "Three shots cost us a whole lot last year, and they know that. Since we've been back for a few weeks I've been impressed that they seem really hungry to do well. I'm pleased with their progress and their work ethic, and we're moving in the right direction, so that's all you can ask for as a coach."
Baylor as a team finished either first or second in five of 10 regular-season tournaments last year, including a win in the first event of the spring season, the 2013 Hurricane Invitational. The Lady Bears placed second at the Ptarmigan Ram Fall Classic, the Tar Heel Invitational, the BancorpSouth Rebel Intercollegiate and the Big 12 Conference Championship.
"It's always a good experience to do well and be in the hunt to win. We're getting better all the time, and we've had those experiences where we're knocking on the door," Goble said. "My expectation is that we learn from each and every one of those events, and if we go out and use that to our advantage it's going to be a good season."
Returning at the top of the Baylor lineup is junior Hayley Davis, who finished the 2012-13 season ranked No. 21 nationally in GolfStat's individual rankings. Davis became the third player in program history to earn All-Big 12 honors in consecutive season, and she has a chance to join Hannah Burke as the only three-time All-Big 12 selections in program history, and the first to be honored in three straight seasons.
"Hayley's super solid and she really just plays well often," Goble said. "She's most likely going to go down in Baylor women's golf history as our best player, and I don't see anybody touching her record for a while. Not only did she get her first win, but she's had six second-place finishes in her two years at Baylor, so she's always putting herself in position to do well."
Davis finished in second place in five of her first 16 career tournaments before breaking through to win the 2013 Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate. She's finished in the top-5 in 10 of 20 career regular season tournaments, and she's placed in the top-10 16 times.
"Winning is an art form, it's not something you just come out and do, so for her to keep putting herself in those positions, it's just a matter of time before she wins three or four tournaments during a year," Goble said. "She's talented enough to win every tournament she plays, but we all know that's hard to do in golf. I think she was a little disappointed with the way she finished last year, but she can very easily be a first-team All-American if she just goes out and plays her own game."
Joining Davis among returning players are junior Emma Carberry and sophomores Laura Lonardi, Annette Lyche and Natalia Perez. Carberry was one of three Lady Bears to play all 33 rounds last season, and she finished third on the team with a 75.52 stroke average.
Lonardi was a mid-year enrollee who played in all seven events of the spring season, including a tie for eighth place at the Rebel Intercollegiate. She finished fourth on the team with a 76.33 stroke average. Lyche played 24 rounds over eight tournaments and recorded a 76.79 stroke average in her first collegiate season.
"I'm really excited about the returning players," Goble said. "Hayley Davis had probably the best summer of her career in amateur golf. She went back and played in the British Amateur and lost in extra holes in the semifinal to the eventual champion. Laura Lonardi went back home to Italy and player really successfully for her national team, and she's continually getting better."
"Emma has just gotten better every year she's been here," Goble added. "She didn't play a ton for us her freshman year, but her sophomore year she was our third-best player, and this year I continue to expect that she's going to do really well for us. Those three especially have had really good summers, and I believe they're moving into the right direction."
Challenging the returning players for spots in the lineup will be a pair of freshmen, Hadas Libman and Maggie Beth Byers.
Libman enrolled at Baylor out of the David Leadbetter Golf Academy in Bradenton, Fla., but she's originally from Caesarea, Isreal. Byers played for San Antonio's Churchill High School.
"Through the first couple rounds of qualifying they're hanging in there and doing really well with the rest of the team," Goble said. "Hadas qualified fifth for our first event, so we're really excited to get her in the lineup and get her in a tournament to get some collegiate golf experience and see how she does."
Baylor opens the 2013-14 season at the Cougar Classic in Charleston, S.C. The three-day, 54-hole event tees off Sunday at Yeamans Hall Club. The fall schedule also includes the Mason Randolph Fall Preview in Franklin, Tenn., the Tar Heel Invitational in Chapel Hill, N.C., and the Alamo Invitational in San Antonio, Texas.