Courtesy of Arizona Athletics
It was only four years ago Arizona was hoisting the national championship trophy at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla. which for Wildcat head coach Laura Ianello must seem like a lifetime ago.
Long gone are Haley Moore, Yu-Sang Hou, Sandra Nordaas, Gigi Stoll and Bianca Pagdanganan who led the Comeback 'Cats to their third national title that afternoon in Stillwater. Just last year, Arizona suffered a midseason roster hit when the sister duo of Yu-Sang and Vivian Hou, runner-up to Jensen Castle in the 2021 U.S. Women's Amateur
, left Tucson early to pursue their professional careers.
While the names have changed in Tucson, the one constant has been Ianello, now in her 13th season as the Wildcats' head coach. Last year, she led a freshmen-heavy lineup through adversity and growing pains to within strokes of advancing to the NCAA Championships for a fourth consecutive season.
Ianello will be the first to put Arizona's 6-under 282 at the Mason Rudolph Championships on Friday into perspective, but her 'Cats may be growing up right in front of her eyes.
Making her collegiate debut, Arizona's Nena Wongthanavimok carded a 4-under 68 in her opening round to grab a share of the first-round lead with Auburn's Megan Schofill
and Lynn Lim
The freshman from Thailand was going along nicely at 1-under par before turning on the jets to finish with three consecutive birdies for her opening round 68.
The 'Cats also rode sub-par rounds by sophomores Caroline Melgrati
(71) and Lilas Pinthier
(71) along with an even-par 72 by senior Gile Bite Starkute
to the top of the leaderboard at the Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin, Tenn.
"I am so proud of our entire team for how we played today," said Ianello. "With four underclassmen in the lineup, our young ladies came out playing some fantastic golf and showed their competitive spirit. Hats off to Nena for shooting a 68 and finishing among the leaders in the very first round of her collegiate career. Carolina and Lila also showed their growth and development as sophomores with strong rounds today as well. Gile and Julia (Misemer) also played some quality golf today to push us."
Host Vanderbilt (-5) and Mississippi State (-4) are right on Arizona's heels, while Kentucky (+1) and Auburn (+3) round out the top five.
It was a tough day for LSU. Ranked eighth in Golfweek's Preseason Poll, the Tigers opened with a 9-over 297.
A total of 14 players are within three shots of the individual lead, including 2021 U.S. Women's Amateur champion Jensen Castle
Arizona tees off at 10:10 a.m. (CST) in Saturday's second round and will play alongside Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.
ABOUT THE Mason Rudolph Women's Championship
54-hole women's college event hosted by
Vanderbilt University. Team (best four scores out of
players each round) and individual competitions.
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