WALLA WALLA - One year after placing fifth in the final standings, a young Whitman College women's golf team has designs this spring on advancing at least one or two steps up the Northwest Conference ladder.
Whitman, along with Whitworth and Linfield, are the teams with the best shot at "chasing down George Fox for the top spot in the NWC," third-year Whitman coach Skip Molitor said.
"We faced Whitworth and Linfield in two tournaments last fall, and we split with both of those teams," he said. "Even if we fall short of catching George Fox, and nothing is conceded at this point, our chances are as good as any to finish a strong second."
Fielding a roster of two sophomores and four first-year players, a young Missionary team had its ups and downs last fall, placing second in a strong field at the North Idaho Invitational before taking fourth at the NWC Fall Classic in cold, wet and windy conditions in late October.
The fall classic is one of three 36-hole tournaments that determine the final NWC standings. The other two are the Spring Classic, slated for April 2-3 at The Links at Hawks Prairie in Lacey, Wash., and the NWC Championships, which follow April 22-23 at Columbia Point in Richland.
The two classic tournaments combine to count for one-half of the point totals that determine the final standings. The NWC Championship tourney, which caps the regular season, counts for double in the final point totals.
Whitman is hosting the the final championship tournament.
By winning the 2010 Fall Classic, George Fox grabbed the early lead in the standings with eight points. Whitworth and Linfield finished second and third, respectively, and take seven and six points into the spring season. Whitman sits in fourth with five points with Puget Sound, Pacific Lutheran and Willamette filling the next three spots.
Lewis & Clark and Pacific picked up zero points in the fall. Lewis & Clark was unable to field the four players it takes to post a team score, and Pacific withdrew on the second day of the fall classic, saying the tournament should have been postponed because of weather conditions that bordered on unplayable.
Whichever team finishes atop the final standings gets the NWC's automatic berth in the NCAA Division III national championship field.
Whitworth and George Fox tied for the top spot last spring with the tie-breaker giving the automatic berth to the Pirates. George Fox received an at-large bid and eventually placed eighth at nationals while Whitworth finished 17th.
Whitman is one of six teams expected to take part in a one-day competition on Sunday at the East Valley Golf Club in Beaumont. The other teams are Redlands, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, Occidental, La Verne and Pomona-Pitzer.
"For now, our focus is to just play with more consistency and bring out the best in each of our players," Molitor said.
The young veterans of the team are sophomores Taylor "Tate" Head and Caitlin Holland. Both have had flashes of success in their first 18 months of college golf.
Holland and Head tied for Whitman's best score at last spring's NWC Championship tournament.
While pleased to have two talented sophomores to anchor the roster, Molitor is high on the four first-year players that compose his second recruiting class.
Katie Zajicek, who played for Corvallis High, finished fifth at the 2010 Fall Classic.
Catelyn Webber, who played for Bellevue High, posted Whitman's second-best score at the 2010 Fall Classic. And she carded the top Missionary score at the North Idaho tournament.
Elaine Whaley, who played for Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, placed third among the Whitman contingent at last fall's classic.
Molitor first spotted Whaley two summers ago when she won the Banner Bank Tournament at the Walla Walla Country Club, shooting rounds of 75 and 77.
Erika Zinzer, who came to Whitman from Puerta Villarta, Mexico, rounds out the first-year Missionary class.
After competing at the NWC Spring Classic in early April, Molitor and the Missionaries will host an 18-hole Whitman Invitational on SApril 9, at Columbia Point in Richland.