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NCAA season preview: Preseason top 30 women's teams

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With the 2020-21 men's and women's college golf seasons about to begin, GolfChannel.com provides you with everything you need to know about the top teams and players in the country. Below is a breakdown of the preseason top 30 women's teams:


Stanford head coach Anne Walker knows she has an embarrassment of riches at her disposal as the Cardinal gear up for a new season. But she’s also experienced enough to know that golf tournaments aren’t won on paper.

“In our sport, there are just so many variables and factors,” Walker said.

So, while Stanford boasts the top two players in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking in two-time USGA champion Rose Zhang (No. 1) and reigning Annika Award winner Rachel Heck (No. 2), as well as first-team All-American Angelina Ye, 2020 Women’s British Amateur winner Aline Krauter and highly ranked recruit Carolina Sturdza, among others, it’s unfair to prematurely crown the Cardinal the NCAA champs, let alone one of the best women’s teams of all-time – right up there with the 2013 USC team that shot an NCAA-record 19 under at nationals, the 2005 and 2006 Duke squads that won it all and had three first-team All-Americans each, and the legendary Arizona State teams of the 1990s.

“I don’t even know how many times we’ll get our whole lineup teed up,” Walker added.

Ye will miss the fall opener to play in the National Games of China, and she is also among five Stanford players who are in good position to be invited to the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in April. Even if Zhang or Heck choose to compete in the ANA Inspiration instead, that’s still a week-plus away from school. And then there’s the Spirit International in early November, which could also pull away a few Cardinal players away from the fall-ending Pac-12 Preview in Hawaii.


Brentley Romine previews men's, women's NCAA golf seasons

Brentley Romine previews men's, women's NCAA golf seasons

Luckily for Stanford, it is deep, and those absences temporary. When the postseason arrives, the Cardinal should be at full strength, especially since Zhang and Heck, unlike some other top stars such as Arizona State’s Linn Grant, Florida State’s Beatrice Wallin and Arizona sisters Yu-Sang Hou and Vivian Hou, are not entered in Q-School this fall.

And with the level of talent in Palo Alto, a full-strength Stanford team makes them not only GolfChannel.com’s No. 1 team heading into the fall but also the consensus team to beat among other top coaches.

“And it’s not even close,” one coach said.

Here is a full breakdown of the top 30 women’s teams in the country as we enter another season:


Rachel Heck
2021 NCAA Photos

1. Stanford

Final 2020-21 rank: 1

2021 NCAA Championship finish: Quarterfinalist (won stroke play)

Top returners: Rachel Heck (Soph.), Angelina Ye (Jr.), Aline Krauter (Sr.), Brooke Seay (Jr.), Sadie Englemann (Soph.), Calista Reyes (Sr.), Rebecca Becht (Soph.)

Key departures: Ziyi Wang

Arriving: Rose Zhang (Fr.), Caroline Sturdza (Fr.), Yu Wen Lu (Fr.)

Projected starting lineup: Zhang, Heck, Ye, Krauter, Seay

Scouting report: It wasn’t a normal spring by any stretch of the imagination for a lot of teams because of the pandemic, but especially Stanford. The Cardinal didn’t arrive at school until Feb. 24, and then the next day they were playing their first tournament, a 36-hole event at home against Cal and San Jose State. There were no regular students on campus at all last year, and the entire Stanford team lived in the same dorm building. “We had decided pretty quickly that we were just lucky to be playing,” said head coach Anne Walker. Despite the oddities, though, by the time the NCAA Championship rolled around, Stanford was in familiar position. Not only had the Cardinal won regionals and finished first in stroke play at Grayhawk, they also boasted the individual champ in Heck, who won six times en route to claiming the Annika Award. While the Cardinal were upset in the quarters, they enter this season with unreal potential. Zhang is arguably the sport’s best incoming freshman in decades, and she’ll team with Heck and another first-team All-American in Ye. Krauter is battle-tested and provides this team an excellent veteran presence and more low scores, while Seay has been at Stanford all summer working on her game. “That’s a reflection of the excitement that’s within the team,” Walker said, “just everyone’s really pumped and wants to play well.” Like Seay, Englemann won a tournament last season and was in the postseason lineup. Sturdza, who is from the same club in Switzerland as former Stanford great Albane Valenzuela, is a top-100 amateur in the world. Even Becht almost won an event last spring and could find her way into the lineup, especially with many of her teammates likely having to miss events for other obligations. Like we said in the intro, Stanford won’t be at full strength the entire year, but they will be when it matters.

Coach’s take: “We have a ton of really hard-working kids. I mean, you don’t get to be that good without working hard, right?” – Walker


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2. Wake Forest

Final 2020-21 rank: 7

2021 NCAA Championship finish: 12

Top returners: Rachel Kuehn (Jr.), Lauren Walsh (Jr.), Mimi Rhodes (Soph.), Vanessa Knecht (Sr.), Caroline Smith (Soph.), Georgia Ruffolo (Soph.)

Key departures: Emilia Migliaccio, Siyun Liu, Letizia Bagnoli

Arriving: Carolina Lopez Chacarra (Fr.), Virunpat Olankitkunchai (Sr., transferred from Maryland)

Projected starting lineup: Kuehn, Walsh, Chacarra, Rhodes, Olankitkunchai

Scouting report: The Demon Deacons finished first or second in five of six events leading into the NCAA Championship, but then disaster struck and they ended up a disappointing 12th. With Migliaccio and Liu, two members of Wake’s 2019 NCAA runner-up lineup gone, it’s easy to think that the Demon Deacons won’t be a top-10 team this season. But then you look at this lineup… Curtis Cuppers Kuehn and Walsh combined for five top-5s last season and are both potential first-team All-Americans. Kuehn was stroke-play medalist at the U.S. Women’s Amateur and Walsh recently made the cut at the AIG Women’s Open. Chacarra is actually the team’s highest-ranked player, Rhodes played a big role in England’s European Ladies’ Team Championship win this summer and Olankitkunchai was a two-time All-Big Ten first-teamer before arriving in Winston-Salem at the start of the summer to take classes and get adjusted. Even Smith won the Kentucky Open this summer, so there’s a lot of depth, and the level talent from top to bottom should have Wake in the national-championship conversation all season.

Coach’s take: “The way I look at it is at any moment any of those [top six] players, when they’re hot, can play well and win. I think [the wins are] going to be mixed depending on whose week it is. Somebody might end up finishing first, and another may end up third and then someone’s fifth, but they all have that potential to win. … They all just have a maturity in the way they approach the game and the way they practice, and the intensity that they want to be competing at is very high.” – Kim Lewellen


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3. Ole Miss

Final 2020-21 rank: 6

2021 NCAA Championship finish: Won (fourth in stroke play)

Top returners: Julia Johnson (Sr.), Andrea Lignell (Jr.), Chiara Tamburlini (Jr.), Smilla Sonderby (Soph.), Ellen Hume (Sr.), Ellen Hutchinson-Kay (Sr.)

Key departures: Kennedy Swann

Arriving: Natacha Host (Fr.)

Projected starting lineup: Johnson, Lignell, Hume, Tamburlini, Host

Scouting report: Rebels head coach Kory Henkes smiles every day when she walks into the team practice facility in Oxford. That’s because sitting on the coffee table, next to SEC and East Lake Cup hardware, is the NCAA Championship trophy. “It’s the first thing you see when you walk in,” Henkes said. “It feels good. … It’s still a lot of excitement around here about it.” Ole Miss begins its national-title defense minus just one player (Swann), and Johnson’s decision to return for an extra year is a huge boost. Lignell is poised for a breakout year while Hume, who battled bicep tendonitis and had the injury knock her out of nationals, is healthier and ready to contribute again. The back end of the lineup has plenty of strong candidates, including Tamburlini, who had two top-5s two seasons ago, and Host, who had eight top-10s, including two wins, in her native Denmark this summer. Plus, expect a midseason addition, too. Lost in the national-championship buzz was the fact that the Rebels didn’t win a 54-hole, stroke-play event last season. That will likely change as the Rebels are deeper than they were last season, and they remain a tough out in match play.

Coach’s take: “You can’t take away the national championship that we won, but the one thing we’re going to still do is keep working hard. They like to win, and they want to keep doing it. … The key is to just keep it simple and do what we always do: Figure out how we’re going to get better that day or that week.” – Henkes


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4. Duke

Final 2020-21 rank: 2

2021 NCAA Championship finish: Semifinalist (second in stroke play)

Top returners: Gina Kim (Sr.), Erica Shepherd (Jr.), Phoebe Brinker (Soph.), Anne Chen (Soph.), Megan Furtney (Jr.)

Key departures: Jaravee Boonchant

Arriving: Sophia Bae (Fr.), Rylie Heflin (Fr.)

Projected starting lineup: Kim, Shepherd, Brinker, Chen, Bae

Scouting report: No team arguably had stricter COVID-19 protocols last season than Duke, but the Blue Devils didn’t let that affect them, winning twice, including an ACC title, and then finishing second in stroke play at Grayhawk before bowing out in the semifinals of NCAA match play. Even more impressive was that Boonchant, an All-American, didn’t arrive on campus until mid-March. Boonchant is gone now, but the remaining group has already proven it’s good without her. Kim, the only leftover from the 2019 NCAA title team, returns for one final year after winning the ACC individual title last season, and she’ll team with Erica Shepherd at the top of the lineup. Phoebe Brinker and Anne Chen should build off strong postseasons – Brinker was T-5 at Grayhawk and Chen was fourth at ACCs before counting in six of seven rounds between regionals and nationals. The five spot will be up for grabs with Furtney back and two freshmen ready to compete for playing time right away. Bae could be especially impressive, as head coach Dan Brooks compared her work ethic, practice efficiency and attention to detail to that of Duke legend Leona Maguire.

Coach’s take: “You couldn’t hear a negative peep out of our team through that whole very conservative, very safe approach that Duke took on COVID, right from the start all the way until now. Having to handle all of that – the masking, the care, the distance – just so proud of them. Golf is all about handling whatever comes your way, and I probably haven’t had a team that handled everything that came their way better than that team. Our energy was all going forward.” – Brooks


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5. LSU

Final 2020-21 rank: 5

2021 NCAA Championship finish: 9

Top returners: Ingrid Lindblad (Jr.), Latanna Stone (Jr.), Carla Tejedo Mulet (Soph.), Alden Wallace (Sr.), Presley Baggett (Sr.), Jessica Bailey (Sr.)

Key departures: Kendall Griffin (transferred to Louisville)

Arriving: Elsa Svensson (Fr.), Lauren Clark (Fr.)

Projected starting lineup: Lindblad, Stone, Tejedo Mulet, Wallace, Svensson

Scouting report: It’s hard to blame the Tigers for feeling like they ended last season with a sour taste in their mouths. They had all the momentum after rolling to the stroke-play title at the SEC Championship, but then they got bounced in match play, didn’t play a home regional after the NCAA chose to scrap play because of heavy rain (and then was part of the criticism in wake of the controversial decision), and to top it all off, they missed match play at Grayhawk by a shot. There is a strong chance at redemption, however, as the Tigers return one of the best players in the country in Lindblad, who won twice and didn’t finish worse than ninth in nine starts before a poor week at NCAAs. She has no plan to play Stage II of LPGA Q-School this fall, which is good news for LSU. While Griffin’s loss is notable, Stone, Tejedo and Wallace all had better numbers last season than the departed senior. Stone had four top-5s. The fifth spot could go to one of the two freshmen. Ole Miss was the darling of the conference last May after hoisting the NCAA team title, but the Tigers were 5-2 head-to-head against the Rebels last season, so confidence is sky high entering this new campaign.

Coach’s take: “They’re used to me saying that it always comes down to one or two shots, and you want to be on the right side of that one or two. We came up a little short, and they’re motivated to get back. … Obviously, we have the group of girls to get it done, we just have to make sure we’re on the right side for match play and get it going from there.” – Garrett Runion


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6. Arizona

Final 2020-21 rank: 13

2021 NCAA Championship finish: Semifinalist (eighth in stroke play)

Top returners: Vivian Hou (Jr.), Yu-Sang Hou (Sr.), Ya Chun Chang (Sr.), Gile Bite Starkute (Jr.)

Key departures: Therese Warner (transferred to South Florida)

Arriving: Carolina Melgrati (Fr.), Lilas Pinthier (Fr.), Caitlin Whitehead (Fr.), Ellinor Sudow (Sr., transferred from Charlotte)

Projected starting lineup: V. Hou, Y. Hou, Chang, Starkute, Melgrati

Scouting report: The Hou sisters got a late start to their spring seasons because of the pandemic – and Arizona had to play its first two spring events with just individuals – but when it was all said and done, the Wildcats, led by the Hous, found themselves back in NCAA match play and upset top seed Stanford in the quarterfinals before falling to eventual champion Ole Miss. Yu-Sang is back for an extra year, and she’ll team up one final time with her younger sister, who is fresh off a runner-up finish at the U.S. Women’s Amateur and healthy after playing through a torn left hip labrum last spring. However, both Hous along with Chang are signed up for Q-School, so the Wildcats could take a hit this spring if any or all of them get their LPGA cards. But even with a worst-case scenario, Arizona, the 2018 NCAA champ, still may have enough in the arsenal by May to make a run at a fourth straight national semifinals appearance. Starkute gained a lot of confidence at Grayhawk last season, closing in 68-69 before sinking the clinching putt against Stanford’s Angeline Ye in the quarters. And then the new crop has a ton of potential. Melgrati and Pinthier are highly ranked, consistent talents, and Sudow had a strong summer after not playing last season and arrives on campus with big goals, including in the classroom, as she will go for a master’s degree in business.

Coach’s take: “Expectations are definitely high, but I’m just eager to get these new players some experience and see how we’re going to fit team-chemistry-wise. I want to make sure everyone is unified and we’re being cohesive. … The four returners, we know their tendencies and we know their games, but there’s definitely going to be a slot or two open in this lineup for my newbies, so I’m excited to get my hands on them and see exactly how deep we are because I believe we’re very deep. This fall is going to be a chess game. The only thing that’s going to be the big question mark for us is Q-School.” – Laura Ianello


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7. Oklahoma State

Final 2020-21 rank: 3

2021 NCAA Championship finish: Runner-up (third in stroke play)

Top returners: Isabella Fierro (Jr.), Maddison Hinson-Tolchard (Soph.), Rina Tatematsu (Soph.), Lianna Bailey (Sr.), Hailey Jones (Soph.), Han-Hsuan Yu (Sr.)

Key departures: Maja Stark

Arriving: Clemence Martin (Fr.), Caley McGinty (Jr., transferred from Kent State)

Projected starting lineup: McGinty, Fierro, Hinson-Tolchard, Tatematsu, Bailey

Scouting report: The Cowgirls have a lot of momentum from last season after winning five times, including a Big 12 titles, and finishing runner-up to Ole Miss at the NCAA Championship. The first order of business, though, is getting used to competing without Stark, a first-team All-American who decided to forego her final two seasons of eligibility and turn pro. McGinty and Fierro are sort of interchangeable at the No. 1 spot. McGinty is a transfer from Kent State, where she was the MAC player of the year, and she arrives in Stillwater stronger and longer than when Oklahoma State head coach Greg Robertson first signed her a few years ago while he was still at Kent State. Fierro had six straight top-10s to begin her season, but her right wrist flared up from overuse and she didn’t close well. She didn’t play much this summer but should be ready to go this fall. The opposite can be said of Hinson-Tolchard, who had a blistering summer with a win at the Southern Amateur, runner-up at the Western Amateur and match-play berths at the North and South and U.S. Women’s Amateur. Tatematsu was a star at Grayhawk after a nice freshman season (10 top-25s in 11 events), and Bailey was also on last year’s NCAA runner-up squad, but don’t count out Jones, who will likely challenge for starts this season after a nice summer.

Coach’s take: “The whole key to everything is finding that balance between having that confidence coming off of the NCAA Championship and that high of having a shot at winning, and then not getting over-confident or complacent coming into this year, and hopefully they just continue to do the things that they’ve done that got them to the point where they had a chance to win. … I know some coaches have that thought where you have 24 hours to enjoy it and then you have to move on, but for me personally, I want them to remember how good that felt and what that experience was like, and hopefully that drives them to understand and remember what it took to get to that point.” – Greg Robertson


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8. Florida State

Final 2020-21 rank: 10

2021 NCAA Championship finish: 9

Top returners: Beatrice Wallin (Sr.), Charlotte Heath (Soph.), Amelia Williamson (Sr.), Alice Hodge (Soph.), Taylor Roberts (Soph.), Elle Johnson (Jr.)

Key departures: Kathleen Sumner

Arriving: Madison Hewlett (Fr.), Kaylah Williams (Fr.), Cecilie Finne-Ipsen (Sr., transferred from Charlotte)

Projected starting lineup: Wallin, Heath, Williamson, Hodge, Hewlett

Scouting report: The Seminoles were a sleeper pick going into Grayhawk after winning their regional and previously advancing to the ACC Championship final before losing to Duke. But they failed to make match play in heartbreaking fashion after Hodge’s double bogey on the last hole of stroke play to keep Florida State out by a shot. But close calls often breed comeback stories, and that’s what the Seminoles are banking on. Wallin is an Annika Award contender once more after two wins among seven top-10s last season, though she plans to compete in Stage II of LPGA Q-School. But while depth was a bit of an issue last year, it won’t be this time around. Heath, a Curtis Cupper, and Williamson have first-team All-ACC potential while Hodge again figures to play a big role at the back of the lineup, which could be a revolving door with several names in the mix. One that stands out is Hewlett, who could be slow to start because of a sore back, but her fundamentals and high golf IQ could see her surprise and log some big rounds down the stretch. If Wallin leaves during the season, it will leave a sizeable void, but the Seminoles should still have the firepower to make another run at match play.

Coach’s take: “They’ve got a little bit of a chip on their shoulder after coming within a shot of making match play, and they’re like, we’ve got to continue to push and get better because there are no guarantees. … When we gathered right after, as sad and depressing as it was, I looked them all in the eye and said, ‘Look, the one thing that nobody can take away is it was a record-breaking season. Yes, it stings right now, but we had told them at the beginning of the week that it was going to come down to one shot.’ But then I said, ‘Before you know it, four months will have passed and it will be time to hit the road again.’ What a story it will be a year from now when we’re hopefully standing on 18, rather than 9, and hoisting a trophy.” – Amy Bond


Telfer
Auburn Athletics

9. Auburn

Final 2020-21 rank: 11

2021 NCAA Championship finish: Quarterfinalist (sixth in stroke play)

Top returners: Megan Schofill (Jr.), Kaleigh Telfer (Sr.), Mychael O’Berry (Sr.), Julie McCarthy (Sr.), Elina Sinz (Soph.), Anna Foster (Soph.), Brooke Sansom (Sr.)

Key departures: Elena Hualde Zuniga

Arriving: Morgan Jones (Fr.), Casey Weidenfeld (Fr., redshirting), Carys Worby (Fr., redshirting)

Projected starting lineup: Schofill, Telfer, O’Berry, McCarthy, Sinz

Scouting report: If the Tigers were one thing last season, they were clutch. They won the SEC title by taking all five matches in the final against Mississippi State. They then followed by rallying from 12th to T-4 on the final day at regionals. And for the second straight NCAA Championship, they snuck into match play with a strong finish. Though Auburn lost in the quarterfinals at Grayhawk, there’s a lot of optimism heading into this season. All but Hualde Zuniga are back, including three fifth-year players in Telfer, O’Berry and McCarthy, the latter of whom has played sparingly the last couple of seasons because of a balky left wrist. The injury has improved dramatically, though, and there’s hope for McCarthy returning to the honorable-mention All-American form she had in 2018-19. Schofill, an alternate for the U.S. Curtis Cup team, won a tournament last season, but overall, it was a disappointing year with just one other top-10. She’s destined to bounce back, which could mean big things for this well-balanced Tigers squad, which has a few options for that fifth spot, including Sinz, who notched two top-3s in big Texas amateur events this summer, and Foster, who recently won the Irish Women’s Close Championship.

Coach’s take: “We have a lot of depth and our team is very competitive internally. Everyone has to continue to keep the pedal down and nobody can rest on their laurels, and I think it’s a good thing. … The people who are playing the best right now, that’s who we want in there. That’s really the theme, and it keeps everyone on their toes.” – Melissa Luellen


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10. USC

Final 2020-21 rank: 12

2021 NCAA Championship finish: 23

Top returners: Brianna Navarrosa (Soph.), Malia Nam (Sr.), Alexa Melton (Jr.), Katherine Muzi (Sr.), Christine Wang (Soph.)

Key departures: Allisen Corpuz, Amelia Garvey, Alyaa Abdulghany

Arriving: Cindy Kou (Fr.), Joyce Jin (Fr.), Michaela Morard (Fr., transferred from Alabama)

Projected starting lineup: Kou, Navarrosa, Nam, Melton, Muzi

Scouting report: One could argue that no team in the country lost more firepower in the past eight months than the Trojans, who had U.S. Women’s Amateur champ Gabi Ruffels turn pro midseason and then graduated Allisen Corpuz, Alyaa Abdulghany and Amelia Garvey. That trio combined for 14 top-10s last spring. But one could also argue that a changing of the guard in Los Angeles is a good thing after USC barely got past regionals and then only beat one team at nationals. There’s still lots of talent left, but the difference this year may be the competition at home. No lineup spot is safe, so if a player wants to travel, they’re going to have to earn it through qualifying. Kou arrives with high accolades and even higher expectations, and she could immediately be the Trojans’ best chance at a first-team All-America. Navarrosa played a ton as a freshman, but expect her to break out now that she’s out of the shadows of last year’s senior class. The strong-willed Nam, a former Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, was often the odd player out last season before working her way into the postseason lineup; she’ll look to finish her career strong. Melton, who has loads of potential, and Muzi, who has improved dramatically during her career and recently won the SCGA Match Play, also will play a ton, while Jin, a past U.S. Girls’ Junior co-medalist, and Wang provide excellent depth. The wild card is Morard, who would be a huge boost if she can rediscover even some of her junior-golf form. However, the biggest shot in the arm will come in the spring with an Annie Park-type freshman arrival. Park started in the spring of 2013 and led USC to an NCAA title that same season.

Coach’s take: “The seniors were really good, but I think we’re super excited to inject some youth into what we’re doing. I’m pretty fired up. … That work ethic that all of our great women’s teams have always had, this group we’re bringing in I think is really going to reinstate the standards that have been here forever, which is act like a professional team and take care of your business like professionals.” – Justin Silverstein


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11. Arizona State: It was a spirited run to the NCAA quarterfinals by the Sun Devils, who not only had to deal with the pandemic but also head coach Missy Farr-Kaye’s cancer battle. Entering this season, Farr-Kaye is in great health, and Arizona State should again be a national threat. Olivia Mehaffey is a big loss, and Linn Grant is poised to turn pro midseason should she at least earn Symetra status, but sophomore Ashley Menne’s fourth-place finish in NCAA stroke play showed she’s ready to be a consistent force. Senior Alexandra Forsterling wasn’t in the NCAA lineup last May after hurting her back, but she won the German International Amateur and was second at the European Ladies Amateur this summer. And watch out for freshman Calynne Rosholt, whose mother, Lynne, was a college teammate of Farr-Kaye.

12. UCLA: One of the younger teams in college golf last season with four sophomores and a junior playing regularly, the Bruins didn’t win a tournament, but they did make it to the final day of stroke play at Grayhawk, finishing 15th. Junior Emma Spitz is already a star – in two seasons in Los Angeles, she has two wins among 14 top-10s – and fellow junior Annabel Wilson has proven herself as a standout No. 2. With freshman Alessia Nobilio finally joining the fold and blue-chip recruit Zoe Campos adding in, as well, the potential for this team is through the roof.

13. Oregon: Head coach Derek Radley continues to build something special in Eugene, as the Ducks placed 11th at the NCAA Championship. All five starters are back, too, including junior Briana Chacon, sophomore Cynthia Lu and three others ranked in the top 250 in the world amateur rankings. Also, Brittany Shin, the reigning Big West player of the year, arrives from Cal State-Fullerton and should challenge one of those incumbents for a lineup spot.

14. Georgia: The Bulldogs are running it back with their top seven players returning after a season in which Georgia won a regional title and finished 18th at the NCAA Championship. No player is more crucial to this team’s success than senior Jenny Bae, who had six top-15 finishes, including a regional title, as a junior. Bae also had a nice summer, winning Georgia’s state amateur and open titles before reaching to the Round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur.

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15. South Carolina: The Gamecocks were among the NCAA-title favorites last season before falling flat in the postseason, and the potential bounce back was made tougher after the team lost not only graduates Ana Pelaez, Lois Kaye Go and Pimnipa Panthong but also two-time, first-team All-American Pauline Roussin Bouchard, who turned pro earlier this month. Don’t count them out, though, as incoming freshman Hannah Darling, fresh off her British Girls Amateur victory, could be an immediate star. She’ll be joined by three strong additions who all will be in the mix to play right away: freshman Louise Rydqvist and transfers Worapitcha Anudit and Justine Fournand.

16. Texas: Kaitlyn Papp and Agathe Laisne combined last season to notch 13 top-20s in 14 starts and each were named second-team All-Americans, but the two staples for the Longhorns have moved on. Texas head coach Ryan Murphy did add Fresno State’s Brigette Thibault, a top-150 amateur, via transfer, and she’ll complement senior Sara Kouskova and junior Sophie Guo well. Texas, which lost to Ole Miss in the quarterfinals at Grayhawk last May, can still get back to match play, but only if Ashleigh Park builds off a solid freshman campaign and incoming freshman Bohyun Park quickly adjusts to the college game after being a AJGA first-team All-American last year.

17. Baylor: Replacing the graduated Elodie Chapelet and her six top-10s from last season will be tough, but senior Gurleen Kaur is a proven winner and leader, and freshman Antonia Matte of Chile has potential to slot into the lineup right away and solidify the Bears’ top five. Florida transfer Addie Baggarly will also arrive in the spring, which will provide a nice boost to a team that won five straight tournaments to begin last season.

18. Virginia: After finishing a disappointing ninth at regionals, the Cavaliers are hungry to rebound. The entire starting lineup is back, led by seniors Beth Lillie and Riley Smyth, who combined for nine top-10s last spring. Plus, there is more depth with the additions of freshman Amanda Sambach, an AJGA All-American, and Rebecca Skoler, who redshirted last season but enjoyed a strong summer.

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19. Florida: The Gators lose just one starter from their regional squad that finished seventh – Addie Baggarly, who transferred to Baylor. Junior Annabell Fuller, a two-time GB&I Curtis Cupper, headlines a seven-player roster that doesn’t have a weak link. Even the two newcomers, freshman Ester Fagersten and UC Davis transfer Jackie Lucena, have the ability to play right away. Senior Clara Manzalini could be a breakout candidate after just four appearances in the starting lineup last season.

20. Virginia Tech: This is an experienced bunch led by senior Emily Mahar, who reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur this summer, and junior Becca DiNunzio, who led the Hokies with six top-20s last season. With four of the five starters back, that leaves an open spot for one of the three incoming freshmen, though Symone Henriques and Ginnie Lee seem the two most likely contenders. After tying for 21st at the NCAA Championship last May, reaching Monday at Grayhawk next spring is definitely within reach for Virginia Tech.

21. Alabama: It was always going to take some time to rebuild after the Tide lost three of the program’s all-time best players – Cheyenne Knight, Kristen Gillman and Lauren Stephenson – in less than a year. Now, Kenzie Wright is also gone, but don’t forget about Alabama, which still qualified for the NCAA Championship last season, finishing 24th. Sophomore Benedetta Moresco has first-team All-SEC chops and her older sister, Angelica, is back for a sixth year, as is Polly Mack, who could crack the top 100 in WAGR with a strong fall. Two additions, Florida Gulf Coast transfer Sarah Edwards and freshman Isabella van der Biest, are also in the mix for playing time.

22. Michigan: The Wolverines made a nice run all the way to Grayhawk, placing 20th, and now they will have the opportunity to build off of that with all nine players back. The top four are very solid – seniors Ashley Lau and Ashley Kim, junior Hailey Borja and sophomore Monet Chun combined for eight top-5 finishes last season – but the fifth spot is up for grabs.

23. Arkansas: The Razorbacks missed out on a return trip to nationals by the slimmest of margins last spring, falling in a playoff to South Carolina for the sixth and final spot out of the Louisville Regional. But the good news is everyone is back, including first-team All-SEC player Brooke Matthews, and freshmen Giovanna Fernandez and Ffion Tynan could both challenge for lineup spots.

24. Kentucky: Expect the Wildcats to make a nice jump in the SEC and national ranks after finishing 12th at conference last season. Momentum was started by qualifying for the NCAA Championship as a team and then tying for 18th, and it was continued this summer as juniors Jensen Castle (U.S. Women’s Amateur) and Marissa Wenzler (Women’s Western Amateur) captured huge titles. Castle and Wenzler will bolster a starting lineup that didn’t lose anyone, and freshman Marta Lopez Echevarria arrives from Spain to provide some more depth and challenge for one of those starting spots.

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25. Vanderbilt: Getting Auston Kim back last spring was a big boost, but the Commodores still weren’t able to punch their tickets to Grayhawk. With Kim and Louise Yu returning for extra years, the starting lineup will look the same for head coach Greg Allen’s team, but Vandy will need a few players to step up behind junior Celina Sattelkau, who, with six top-10s last season, has arguably developed into this team’s best player.

26. Northwestern: The Wildcats will have to replace the graduated Brooke Riley, but junior Irene Kim is one of the favorites for Big Ten player of the year along with Ohio State’s Aneka Seumanutafa and Michigan State’s Valery Plata. Senior Kelly Sim is the other top-100 amateur on the roster.

27. Oklahoma: After falling one spot short of advancing out of regionals last season, the Sooners are now tasked with replacing standout Kaitlin Milligan. However, senior trio Hannah Screen, Mikhaela Fortuna and Libby Winans will keep this team in the hunt for a national berth this season. Plus, Baylor transfer Nina Lang and freshman Meagan Winans will ramp up the competition at home and challenge for starting spots.

28. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs seemingly came out of nowhere to finish runner-up to Auburn at the SEC Championship, but they were denied a chance to compete at regionals after play was controversially scrapped all three days in Baton Rouge because of weather. With four regulars back, led by the sophomore trio of Hannah Levi, Ashley Gillam and Abbey Daniel, this squad won’t be sneaking up on anybody this season.

29. Kent State: After two coaching changes in the past few years, the Golden Flashes’ newest head coach is Casey VanDamme, who had previously spent seven seasons at South Dakota State. He inherits a roster that lost MAC player of the year Caley McGinty to Oklahoma State but is still talented. Seniors Emily Price and Chloe Salort, along with junior Valentina Albertazzi, will keep this team in the mix to make nationals, though with just six players on the roster, that means one of two freshmen – Jennifer Gu and Noramol Nuchsila – will have to play right away.

30. Michigan State: Valery Plata’s special spring, which included four straight top-10s, helped the Spartans build momentum, win the Big Ten and advance all the way to the NCAA Championship, where they narrowly missed the 54-hole cut, finishing 16th. Plata, a senior, is back, as is sophomore Valentina Rossi, who is coming off of a semifinal appearance at the U.S. Women’s Amateur. Replacing Paz Marfa Sans and Yurika Tanida, however, will take some time.


GolfChannel.com's Preseason Top 30

WOMEN'S TEAMS
1. Stanford
2. Wake Forest
3. Ole Miss
4. Duke
5. LSU
6. Arizona
7. Oklahoma State
8. Florida State
9. Auburn
10. USC
11. Arizona State
12. UCLA
13. Oregon
14. Georgia
15. South Carolina
16. Texas
17. Baylor
18. Virginia
19. Florida
20. Virginia Tech
21. Alabama
22. Michigan
23. Arkansas
24. Kentucky
25. Vanderbilt
26. Northwestern
27. Oklahoma
28. Mississippi State
29. Kent State
30. Michigan State

Next five: 31. Clemson, 32. Houston, 33. Oregon State, 34. Miami, 35. Tennessee