SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. - The Seton Hall women's golf team sails into its third year since the program's inception with a new outlook. In year one, the Pirates struggled mightily as a young, new program. Year two saw significant improvement, their first team and individual title, and a fostering reputation as a team on the rise. Now, Seton Hall is being viewed a legitimate title contender every time it takes the course.
Head Coach Sara Doell has witnessed the team's dramatic turnaround first hand and likes the program's chances this year and beyond.
"I truly believe that we have the experience, the talent and the drive to compete at an even higher level than last season," Doell said. "We have all five starters from last year's squad returning... add two talented freshmen to the mix, and a year of experience to our returning players, and that is a recipe for success."
Recruiting has been a boon for Doell since starting the program in 2010. After starting primarily the same five women during the program's inaugural season, all three of Doell's 2011 recruits were immediately inserted into the starting lineup last year and played every tournament for the Pirates. Although only time will tell how the 2012 recruiting class will perform, both new members will crack the starting lineup for the Pirates season-opening tournament at Bucknell.
One of the newcomers, Megan Tenhundfeld (Loveland, Ohio), has been excelling at Ursuline Academy of Cincinnati and has four top-10 finishes in the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) and Plantations Junior Golf Tour (PJGT) events during the 2011 season.
"Megan played great this past summer with three Top-3 finishes, including a win at a Golfweek Junior Tour event in Oxford, Ohio," Doell said. "Megan's junior golf experience and success has prepared her to make the transition to college golf. "She certainly has the potential to be an integral part of the team's success this year. I really enjoyed getting to know her in the recruiting process and look forward to having her on campus this fall."
Seton Hall's other freshman will also likely make an immediate splash. Karlie Zabrosky (Erie, Pa.) qualified for the Pennsylvania High School State Championships the last three years and was named District 10 Golfer of the Year for a third consecutive time in 2012.
"Last summer, I saw Karlie compete at a PGA Callaway series event in State College, Pa.," Doell said. "Ironically, I was there to watch McKenzie compete and they happened to be paired together. I was very impressed with how far Karlie hit the ball and how she handled herself on the course. After speaking with her parents and having her on campus, I knew that she was a great fit for our program. She has made a few adjustments this past summer in her swing that will only help her game. I am excited to see how Karlie's career unfolds as a Pirate."
As a team however, the Pirates will only go as far as their battle-tested veterans take them. The undisputed leader of the group is Hannah Basalone (Brea, Calif.), who has led the team in stroke average each of the last two seasons, and last fall, became the first Seton Hall women's golfer to win a tournament individual title. Her summer success at the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship may foreshadow what could be a dominant junior year.
"Over the past two years, Hannah has laid the foundation for this women's golf program by setting a strong, positive example both on the golf course and in the classroom," Doell said. "She works hard, makes great decisions, and has had tremendous success... doing so with great humility. Hannah has written and re-written the record books for this young program and I know she will continue to do so this year."
Providing an impressive one-two punch at the top of the Pirates order is fellow junior Christina Cantú (Houston, Texas). Cantú has ranked second, only to Basalone, on the team each of the last two years in stroke average, and just last year, logged three, top-10 finishes.
"When Christina is healthy, she is certainly a force to be reckoned with," Doell said. "She proved that last spring when she led the team in three of our five events. She is a competitor and has an extreme amount of self-confidence that has helped her get through some tough injuries the past two years."
Seton Hall's trio of sophomores started every tournament for the Pirates last year and will be expected to steady the lineup once again in 2012-13. The performance of Ali Kruse (Overland Park, Kan.), Erin McClure (Tucson, Ariz.) and McKenzie Cutter (Waldorf, Md.) was one of the main reasons why the Pirates took such an emphatic step forward last year.
Kruse notched her first top-five finish with a career-best 6-over par, 75-75-150, to tie for third place at the Lehigh Invitational, the highest finish by a freshman at the time in program history. "Ali was a very consistent competitor for us averaging 80 in her freshman year," Doell said. "With an added year of experience and a strong summer, I know she can be an integral part of this year's success."
McClure also recorded one top-10 finish, a seventh place tie at the Homewood Suites Siena Invitational. Her score helped lead the Pirates to their first-ever team championship. "Erin is the type of player that brings more to the team than just good golf scores," Doell said. "While Erin was a very consistent and strong player for us last year, she was also a huge part of helping with team morale and cohesiveness."
The third of the sophomore trio was arguably the most successful of the group in 2011-12. McKenzie Cutter ranked third on the team in top-10 finishes (two) as well as fall (78.23), spring (80.75) and overall (79.44) stroke average. Her second place finish at the Homewood Suites Siena Invitational paced Seton Hall to its first-ever tournament team victory. Unfortunately, a nagging back injury may keep her limited this fall.
"McKenzie has spent most of the summer rehabbing her back and taking care of her physical self," Doell said. "Although she was not able to play much golf this summer, she has an incredible amount of confidence and is very strong. I know she will use that to spring back from this injury."
Pushing the back of the Pirates' lineup and ensuring that the regular starters don't get too comfortable in their position will be juniors Stacie Ballou (Staten Island, N.Y.), Samantha Massei (Allen, Texas) and Haley Van Es (Granger, Ind.). Massei and Van Es are well-experienced veterans as they started every tournament for the Pirates during the team's inaugural year and enjoyed spot starts as sophomores. Ballou has made great strides in her game and continues to practice hard in anticipation of an opportunity.
"Although Sam only competed in a handful of events last season, she certainly made great strides in her golf game," Doell said. Her swing has improved tremendously since she first stepped onto campus two years ago. Last fall, Haley came back from a strong summer and made the starting line-up in our first event. That performance shows her talent and ability to be a strong competitor for this team. Stacie is the type of player that every coach loves to have on the squad. She is a hard worker, a strong student and has a strong passion for the game of golf."
Seton Hall will begin the fall season for a third consecutive year with the Bucknell Invitational. The Pirates have improved dramatically at the event, going from a 10th place finish among 18 teams two years ago to a third place finish in a field of 15 teams in 2011. Hannah Basalone tied for seventh place among all individual golfers with a 15-over-par, 75-76-74-225. As a team, Seton Hall was consistent throughout firing a 77-over-par, 306-307-304-917, to finish 11 strokes behind the host and team champion, Bucknell, and 10 strokes behind second place finisher and BIG EAST foe, Rutgers.
The 54-hole event kicks off this Saturday morning with an 8:30 a.m. shotgun start from the Bucknell Golf Club, and will conclude on Sunday. Joining Seton Hall and Bucknell, the field of 14 teams also includes: Lehigh, Navy, Boston University, Rutgers, Radford, Columbia, Wagner, Robert Morris, Saint Francis (Pa.), Cleveland State, St. Francis (N.Y.), McDaniel and Kutztown.
Be sure to check www.SHUpirates.com for complete coverage following each day's events.