Halbig Leads Bears Into Promising 2009 Season

Photo: <b>Pia Halbig</b> is a preseason All-American, thanks to her stellar sophomore campaign. Last year, Halbig set a program record for lowest single-season stroke average for a sophomore.
Victoria Chow/File
Pia Halbig is a preseason All-American, thanks to her stellar sophomore campaign. Last year, Halbig set a program record for lowest single-season stroke average for a sophomore.

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Without a golf course on or near campus, the Cal women's golf team tends to go relatively unnoticed. Bears fans, however, might want to pay attention.

Despite her team's previous season, which ended just three strokes shy of qualifying for the national championship tournament, coach Nancy McDaniel is optimistic about her current squad.

"We're coming off a solid year last year," McDaniel said. "Our expectation is to continue to improve on that."

McDaniel's optimism seems to be grounded in the fact that she returns four players from last year's team and three of her top five players, including preseason All-Pac-10 and All-America selection Pia Halbig.

Halbig followed a solid sophomore campaign -- when she set the Cal sophomore record for single-season stroke average at 73 -- with a successful summer, leading her native Germany to a European Amateur team championship.

Not only have preseason pundits been convinced of the value of Halbig, but her coach has as well.

"She means so much to the program. She gets it done no matter what," McDaniel said. "Having a preseason All-American gives our program something to build on."

McDaniel acknowledges, however, that one golfer will not bring the Bears back into national title contention for the first time since 2006, so the Bears added talent and experience to their roster since last season.

Although only four of the nine current golfers played at Cal last year, two others have collegiate experience elsewhere. Emily Childs and fellow sophomore Joanne Lee join the Bears from Colorado and USC, respectively.

"Both of our transfers played well at their previous universities," McDaniel said. "They provide new blood and a new dynamic for this team."

Three freshmen figure to contribute as well and, according to McDaniel, have already done so in terms of team chemistry.

"They're positive young people and so willing to learn," she said. "They have created a fun environment."

McDaniel holds her highest expectations, however, for sophomore Diane Kwon. Although an ankle sprain has slowed her preseason preparation, McDaniel expects added maturity and experience to allow Kwon to improve on her freshman results.

"I've been really encouraged by her swing and what she's done over the summer," McDaniel said. "She has something to prove. She's not satisfied."

Kwon is not the only Bears golfer hungry to prove something. Coming off of last year's disappointing finish, Cal intends to erase the bad memories of last season with new stories of success.

"We haven't talked about last year much," McDaniel said, "but I expect we'll feed off of it. It was a pretty icky experience."

The Bears' first opportunity to wash out the aftertaste of defeat is this weekend in Nevada. Teeing off on Sunday for the Golfweek Challenge, McDaniel expects her team to start off strong.

"Our goal is to be playing for the championship, so we need to be in the last two waves on the final day," McDaniel said. "This tournament has representatives for every conference, so this is our chance to get a nationwide gauge of how our team will compete at that level."

With experience, depth and ample motivation, McDaniel's squad certainly seems poised to capture what last year's team could not.

"We're motivated," McDaniel said. "We're ready to go."


Contact David Seawright at [email protected]

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