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College preseason countdown: Top 25 women's teams

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With the 2019-20 women’s college golf season about to begin, provides you with everything you need to know about the top teams in the country, which we ranked in order, from No. 25 to No. 1.

No. 5, along with Nos. 6-25, will be released Monday, followed by one a day until the preseason No. 1 is unveiled Friday.

  • Monday: Nos. 5-25
  • Tuesday: No. 4
  • Wednesday: No. 3
  • Thursday: No. 2
  • Friday: No. 1

So without further delay…

1. USC

Final 2018-19 rank: 2

2019 NCAA Championship finish: Quarterfinalist (third in stroke play)

Top returners: Jennifer Chang (Jr.), Gabriela Ruffels (Jr.), Malia Nam (Soph.), Amelia Garvey (Jr.), Alyaa Abdulghany (Jr.), Allisen Corpuz (Sr.)

Key departures: None

Arriving: None

Projected starting lineup: Chang, Ruffels, Nam, Garvey, Abdulghany

Scouting report: The Trojans were ranked No. 1 for much of last season until getting upset in the opening round of match play at the NCAA Championship. But USC returns this season fully intact and better than ever. Chang is one of the nation’s top players, though she’ll go through Q-School this fall, missing the team’s last two events, and may be gone by the spring. Behind Chang is a player more than capable of being a No. 1. U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Ruffels was a top-15 player a season ago and has serious Annika Award potential. Nam is coming off an impressive debut season while Garvey led the team with a T-7 finish at NCAAs, despite not making the lineup for the Pac-12 Championship and NCAA regional. Abdulghany failed to make the lineup in four of five events to start last spring, but the junior seems poised to put those struggles behind her. It will be tougher than ever to qualify, however, with six players ranked in the top 70 of the WAGR. Corpuz missed out on NCAAs last season but has the talent to play among the top of the lineup on most teams in the country. There will be no freshmen arriving, but if Chang does turn pro the Trojans still have senior Aiko Leong and sophomore Katherine Muzi to keep things competitive at home.

Coach’s take: “You could look at us and think, well, same old crew, but as is most years, we roll out a lineup that is as good as anyone’s. I’m confident most coaches would trade lineups with us.” – Justin Silverstein

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Albane Valenzuela is coming off a summer in which she finished runner-up at the U.S. Women's Amateur for the second time. (Getty Images)

2. Stanford

Final 2018-19 rank: 7

2019 NCAA Championship finish: Quarterfinalist (seventh in stroke play)

Top returners: Andrea Lee (Sr.), Albane Valenzuela (Sr.), Aline Krauter (Soph.), Mika Liu (Jr.), Ziyi Wang (Sr.)

Key departures: None

Arriving: Angelina Ye, Brooke Seay

Projected starting lineup: Lee, Valenzuela, Ye, Seay, Krauter

Scouting report: The Cardinal still haven’t missed out on NCAA match play in what has now been five seasons with the format, and don’t expect anything different this season. Many believe Stanford has the two best players in the country in Lee and Valenzuela, though both are exempt into second stage of LPGA Q-School. With them in the lineup, the Cardinal have the firepower to beat anyone in the country, no matter the format. Without them, there is still All-American talent behind them. Ye is coming off a victory at the U.S. Girls’ Junior while Seay is another blue-chip prospect. Krauter has the game to be many Division-I teams’ No. 1. Of course, Liu and Wang played a bunch last season, and each are capable of stepping up if given the opportunity. Assuming the Cardinal are at full strength come postseason time, anything less than a national title would be a disappointment.

Coach’s take: “[Our biggest challenge] will be figuring out our best lineup with everyone returning from last year’s team and [us] adding two new faces who will challenge for lineup spots.” – Anne Walker

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Jaravee Boonchant helped Duke to the 2019 NCAA team title. (Getty Images)

3. Duke

Final 2018-19 rank: 3

2019 NCAA Championship finish: Won (second in stroke play)

Top returners: Jaravee Boonchant (Jr.), Gina Kim (Soph.), Ana Belac (Sr.), Miranda Wang (Jr.)

Key departures: Virginia Elena Carta

Arriving: Erica Shepherd, Megan Furtney

Projected starting lineup: Boonchant, Kim, Belac, Shepherd, Wang

Scouting report: The reigning national champions may have a bone to pick with not being the top-ranked team in the country entering the season, especially with four of its five starters returning and a strong recruiting class coming in. But realistically, the Blue Devils are one of four teams worthy of being preseason No. 1. It all starts with Boonchant, who may have been the most underrated player in the country last season. Kim figures to take that next step and challenge for first-team All-American status while Belac is back for her senior year, though she and Wang entered the first stage of LPGA Q-School. The difference between last year’s squad and this year’s team will be depth. This bunch will actually have it with the addition of freshmen Erica Shepherd and Megan Furtney, who have two USGA titles between them, teaming up for a U.S. Women’s Amateur four-ball win and Shepherd winning the 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior. Both have the games to make the lineup right away, meaning qualifiers should be competitive in Durham again.

Coach’s take: “Very talented team here. … [The biggest challenge will be] to stay present despite the natural expectation of having won the championship [last year].” – Dan Brooks

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Agathe Laisne was one of three first-team All-Americans for Texas last season. (Getty Images)

4. Texas

Final 2018-19 rank: 1

2019 NCAA Championship finish: Quarterfinalist (first in stroke play)

Top returners: Kaitlyn Papp (Jr.), Hailee Cooper (Soph.), Agathe Laisne (Jr.), Sara Kouskova (Soph.), Emilee Hoffman (Sr.), Maren Cipolla (Sr.), Kelly Xac (Sr.)

Key departures: Maddie Luitwieler

Arriving: Sophie Guo

Projected starting lineup: Papp, Cooper, Laisne, Kouskova, Guo

Scouting report: It was a near-perfect end to the season as the Longhorns captured Big 12 and NCAA regional titles before finishing first in stroke play at the NCAA Championship. However, Texas was upset in the quarterfinals of match play by eighth-seeded Auburn. Everyone is back from that starting five, including three first-team All-Americans in Papp, Cooper and Laisne. Kouskova and Hoffman are nice options at the end of the lineup, though Guo could supplant one of them. Any other year, this Longhorns squad would challenge for preseason No. 1, but there was not a lot of changeover among the elite teams. There is No. 1 potential, though, especially if this group can collectively improve its putting.

Coach’s take: “Our biggest challenge will be the fall. We’ll have a few different lineups, and health and Q-School will be factors.” ­– Ryan Murphy

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Sierra Brooks is coming off a junior season in which she finished runner-up at the NCAA Championship. (Florida Athletics)

5. Florida

Final 2018-19 rank: 8

2019 NCAA Championship finish: 11th

Top returners: Sierra Brooks (Sr.), Marta Perez (Sr.), Clara Manzalini (Soph.), Elin Esborn (Jr.), Addie Baggarly (Jr.), Jenny Kim (Soph.), Lauren Waidner (Jr.)

Key departures: None

Arriving: Marina Escobar

Projected starting lineup: Brooks, Perez, Manzalini, Esborn, Baggarly

Scouting report: Even with Brooks contending for an NCAA individual title, the Gators could only produce an 11th-place finish at nationals. But with everybody back, there are expectations to get into match play this season. That goal is very doable. Brooks will be in the running for the Annika Award while Perez serves as a reliable co-leader atop the lineup. Manzalini has the potential to really take off while Baggarly and Esborn have loads of experience, as well. Escobar arrives from Spain and if anything figures to add depth while pushing for a starting gig right away.

Coach’s take: “This group, they’ve been around the block a little bit. … We’re excited to take what was already a good team and add some depth. It’s hard to have a good team without that.” – Emily Glaser

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Frida Kinhult was a finalist for the Annika Award last season. (Getty Images)

6. Florida State

Final 2018-19 rank: 9

2019 NCAA Championship finish: 12th

Top returners: Frida Kinhult (Soph.), Beatrice Wallin (Soph.), Amanda Doherty (Sr.), Amelia Williamson (Soph.), Puk Lyng Thomsen (Soph.), Kathleen Sumner (Jr.)

Key departures: None

Arriving: Elle Johnson

Projected starting lineup: Kinhult, Wallin, Doherty, Thomsen, Williamson

Scouting report: The sentiment around this Florida State program is that if the Seminoles had one more day, they could’ve snuck into match play at the NCAA Championship. Unfortunately, a poor opening round and weather kept that from happening. However, there was some consolation: that Florida State had four freshmen. Now, those freshmen are sophomores, and the Seminoles will roll with the same starting five this season, led by Annika Award contender Kinhult. While Kinhult could be gone by the spring – she is exempt into the second stage of LPGA Q-School – the Seminoles are counting on her as of now. Wallin, another Swedish talent, also has All-America potential, as does Doherty, who is the most experienced player on the team by far. Thomsen had a strong summer and Williamson is a nice fifth piece, though Sumner had experience and newcomer Johnson could be in the mix for playing time, as well.

Coach’s take: “For us, the key to season is staying in the moment and working on the little things. Deep in everyone’s minds there’s a bitter taste of not making it [to match play], but now they know exactly what they’re supposed to do.” – Amy Bond

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Olivia Mehaffey is the lone senior on the Sun Devils' roster. (Getty Images)

7. Arizona State

Final 2018-19 rank: 14

2019 NCAA Championship finish: T-14

Top returners: Olivia Mehaffey (Sr.), Raquel Olmos (Jr.), Alessandra Fanali (Soph.), Alexandra Forsterling (Soph.)

Key departures: Madison Kerley, Sofia Anokhina

Arriving: Linn Grant, Amanda Linner

Projected starting lineup: Mehaffey, Grant, Olmos, Fanali, Forsterling

Scouting report: It wasn’t that long ago that Arizona State won a national title with a senior leader, stud Swedish freshman and several talented role players. Yes, this year’s Sun Devils have a similar makeup to that 2017 squad – only this bunch could be better. Mehaffey is the team’s lone senior, though she’s coming off left-hand surgery after she fell while hiking at the beginning of the summer. She’ll be ready to go for the fall and could have another big year. She won’t have to do it all, however, as Grant arrives with elite game, great work ethic and a competitive fire unmatched on this roster. Olmos couldn’t back up a strong fall last spring, but she will bolster a supporting class that also includes Fanali and Forsterling – and beginning in the spring, Linner, who is graduating early and could make an impact in the postseason if she adjusts quickly. The Sun Devils begin their first of three straight years hosting nationals, so there will be some added pressure to not only make it to Grayhawk but also perform once – and if – they get there. Chances of getting there are strong, as each of Arizona State’s five players has the capability of winning tournaments.

Coach’s take: “If we’re winning and finishing top [of the field] every week, then by the time we get to the national championship it won’t be foreign to us to feel like we’re among the best teams, we’re solid and we’re not just scraping in. I think we’re very capable of that, and I think we’ll have some great weeks and I think we’ll have some weeks where everyone is learning, but when we get everybody clicking we can be a real force to be reckoned with.” – Missy Farr-Kaye

Auburn Athletics
Big things are expected from Kaleigh Telfer this season. (Auburn Athletics)

8. Auburn

Final 2018-19 rank: 13

2019 NCAA Championship finish: Semifinalist (eighth in stroke play)

Top returners: Julie McCarthy (Jr.), Kaleigh Telfer (Jr.), Elena Hualde Zuniga (Sr.), Mychael O’Berry (Jr.), Brooke Sansom (Soph.), Chandler Rosholt (Soph.), Kayley Marschke (Sr.)

Key departures: None

Arriving: Megan Schofill

Projected starting lineup: Telfer, Schofill, O’Berry, Sansom, Hualde (McCarthy still recovering from wrist injury)

Scouting report: The Tigers were the underdog story of the NCAA Championship, winning just one full-field event during the regular season yet fighting their way into match play and then knocking off top-seeded Texas. Auburn fell to Wake Forest in the semifinals but return this season with its lineup intact. McCarthy will miss some action early while she recovers from a wrist injury, but fearless freshman Megan Schofill, who made match play at the U.S. Women’s Amateur, should make an immediate impact. Telfer is a first-team All-SEC talent and possesses an elite ball-striking ability while O’Berry continues to get better by the year. Last year, the Tigers were new to contending at the highest level, so getting stronger mentally, reducing unforced errors and believing in themselves as elite will be crucial if Auburn wants to win a national championship.

Coach’s take: “I feel our team will be very competitive week to week. We need to work on showing up to tournaments fresh, but also we need to learn to win.” – Melissa Luellen

Wake Forest Athletics
Emilia Migliaccio has the difficult job of replacing Jennifer Kupcho this season. (Wake Forest Athletics)

9. Wake Forest

Final 2018-19 rank: 6

2019 NCAA Championship finish: Runner-up (fifth in stroke play)

Top returners: Emilia Migliaccio (Jr.), Siyun Liu (Sr.), Vanessa Knecht (Soph.), Letizia Bagnoli (Soph.), Hannah Rose Bruxvoort (Fr.)

Key departures: Jennifer Kupcho

Arriving: Lauren Walsh, Rachel Kuehn, Julia McLaughlin

Projected starting lineup: Migliaccio, Liu, Knecht, Walsh, Bagnoli

Scouting report: Only Arkansas can argue that it lost as important a piece as Wake Forest did when Kupcho graduated. Unlike the Razorbacks, though, the Demon Deacons have a player fully ready to take over as the team’s No. 1, Annika Award contender Migliaccio, who gave up an exemption into second stage of LPGA Q-School to focus on college golf. Liu finished last season with serious momentum and is poised to continue that success this fall. Knecht and Bagnoli got great experience as Wake advanced to the NCAA final last season, though both will be pushed for playing time by several freshmen, including Walsh, who has the ability to win right away in college. Bruxvoort is back after a redshirt year while Kuehn could end up being a consistent started by season’s end.

Coach's take: "Jennifer, yeah she was a big loss, but she left such a precedent. ... Having a national champion, having a player who won the Augusta event and who is now being successful on tour, these players who are here now were around that, and I think that resonates through the team." – Kim Lewellen

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Pauline Roussin-Bouchard is the highest-ranked incoming freshmen per the WAGR. (Getty Images)

10. South Carolina

Final 2018-19 rank: 12

2019 NCAA Championship finish: Did not qualify

Top returners: Lois Kaye Go (Sr.), Emily Price (Soph.), Ana Pelaez (Sr.), Anita Uwadia (Sr.)

Key departures: Marion Veysseyre

Arriving: Pauline Roussin-Bouchard, Mathilde Claisse, Smith Knaffle

Projected starting lineup: Roussin-Bouchard, Go, Price, Claisse, Pelaez

Scouting report: The Gamecocks are the only top-10 preseason team that didn’t make it out of regionals last season. But this year’s team will be much better. Go, Pelaez and Uwadia return with plenty of experience, with Go being the most reliable of the group and Pelaez having the most potential (even if a lot of it has remained untapped). However, this squad will be paced by its youngsters. Emily Price should take another leap forward after a strong freshman campaign in which she led the team in scoring average and top-10s. And the freshman class is strong. Roussin-Bouchard is the ninth-ranked amateur in the world and could be this team’s No. 1 player right away. Claisse also should get plenty of playing time in the middle of the lineup. If the freshmen adapt quickly and Pelaez steps up, South Carolina could end up being the best team in the SEC.

Coach’s take: “We need a strong leader on and off the golf course to step forward.” – Kalen Anderson

The rest

11. Vanderbilt: The Commodores boast a strong top 3 that features Abbey Carlson, Morgan Baxendale and Auston Kim.

12. UCLA: Bruins will be paced by star-studded freshman class, led by Emma Spitz.

13. Illinois: The Illini broke out at the NCAA Championship last season and return almost everybody, including senior Tristyn Nowlin.

14. Arizona: Haley Moore and Bianca Pagdanganan are gone, leaving Yusang Hou to lead.

15. Kent State: While Pimnipa Panthong and Karoline Stormo are a strong one-two punch, losing head coach Greg Robertson hurts.

16. Michigan State: The Spartans are loaded with talent, most notably Allyson Geer-Park and Haylin Harris.

17. Northwestern: Despite the departure of Stephanie Lau, four of the Wildcats’ top six players return.

18. Ole Miss: This scrappy bunch should build on a season in which they won the SEC title and qualified for nationals.

19. Oregon: Watch out for freshman Briana Chacon and the dark-horse Ducks.

20. Georgia: Caterina Don and Celeste Dao figure to lead this team as freshmen.

21. Oklahoma State: It will take a couple of years for Robertson to really get things going in Stillwater, but there’s top-15 potential here.

22. Arkansas: The Razorbacks graduate a lot of talent, most notably Maria Fassi, but they could be better than some think.

23. Campbell: Camels will again be one of the top mid-major programs.

24. Virginia: There will be much to replace this season, including Anna Redding, but Beth Lillie has first-team All-ACC potential.

25. TCU: The Horned Frogs haven’t qualified for nationals since 2010 but appear up for the challenge this season with most of their lineup intact.