Feb. 15, 2006
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
Each season begins with optimism that a program will grow, and in the case of the Wyoming Cowgirl Golf team improvement has already been apparent during the 2005-06 campaign, even though the season is only partially complete.
In the fall of 2005 five of six returning letterwinners lowered their stroke averages, a freshman stepped in with immediate contributions and the team made strides in events that had given them troubles in the past.
Led by first year head coach Josey Stender, the Cowgirls shot their lowest team round in two seasons at the Bronco Fall Invitational, bettered their team finishes from a year ago at two annual fall events, lowered their team scoring average five strokes from last season and had an individual runner-up tournament finish by sophomore Laura Mengelkamp at the Ron Moore Women's Classic.
"This team is a young, tight-knit group that is striving towards the same goals to get better," said Stender. "They all are leading in their own little ways, some vocally and some with their actions. Everyone is buying into the same philosophy, which is: The harder you work, the better you're going to get.
"I came in without any expectations for this team, and I just wanted the girls to show me what their potential was. That potential came through, especially during the middle part of our fall season. You could see an attitude change throughout each event and it was great for everyone to have some success both individually and as a team. With every event it got a little better and the mood was enthusiastic."
A major part of that enthusiasm has come from the play of Mengelkamp. The second-year Cowgirl notched three top-four individual finishes in six fall events, and for the second straight year is in the top 20 in the Mountain West Conference with a scoring average of 76.12 over 17 rounds.
"Laura definitely seems to have stepped up her game," notes Stender. "She has basically challenged herself to get better and it has paid off. She has put herself in a position for a chance at qualifying for the postseason, which is huge for her and for the program."
The bulk of the Cowgirl lineup remains as underclassmen and in 2005-06 there are no seniors on the roster. Freshman Mikala Henzlik has made a quick adjustment from high school to the collegiate level and was consistently one of the top finishers for Wyoming this past fall.
"Mikala has really blossomed as a player and as a person," said Stender. "She has done a great job adapting to the college game and the sky's the limit for her.
Sophomores Kaelee Aegerter and Lindsay Bauknecht both are establishing themselves on UW's traveling squad, and juniors Michelle Camaione, Whitney Hernandez and Kayla Morrison all have talent and experience to add to the mix.
Aegerter and Hernandez have both made huge improvements in their games over last season, as Aegerter has knocked over six strokes off of her stroke average and Hernandez has lowered her average by over two full strokes.
"Kaelee has become mentally stronger as the season's progressed," according to Stender. "She is not letting things get to her and is improving her course management. She is beginning to put all of the pieces together.
"Lindsay is putting in the effort and time and is hopeful that her work will pay off like she wants it to.
"Whitney has stepped it up and is dealing with controlling her emotions during rounds. She knows that she has the potential and ability to shoot some low rounds and help this team.
"Michelle and Kayla both have golf games that can be very valuable to this team. Hopefully we can find a way to get them playing their best golf and contributing the way they did as freshmen in this program."
As is annually the case, competition within the MWC will be difficult for the Cowgirls with five league teams heading into the spring of 2006 ranked in the Top 50 nationally. In fact, both UNLV and New Mexico are ranked in the top 10 according to Golfstat. Seven of nine MWC schools sponsor women's golf teams. Brigham Young, Colorado State, UNLV, New Mexico, San Diego State, league newcomer TCU and Wyoming will compete for the conference championship, which will be held April 20-22, in St. George, Utah. The UNLV Rebels will be looking to defend their back-to-back MWC Women's Golf Championships. The New Mexico Lobos had won the previous four MWC team titles.
"There are some nationally prominent teams in our conference, but there are also some programs that we can catch up to," observes Stender. "We will need to compare ourselves to our past performances in the MWC and in our region, and improve from there."