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Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024
The Observer

Veteran Irish women's golf team is ready to reach the next level

For the Notre Dame women’s golf team, the 2021-22 season was one of transition. With a young roster, the Irish struggled to keep up with the top teams in an extremely competitive ACC. But with nearly all of their key players returning and the team getting healthy at the right time, they are ready to take a big step forward in 2023.

The program underwent a major shake-up in the offseason when head coach Susan Holt announced her retirement. In 16 years with the Irish, Holt brought the program to new heights. The team went to four conference championships and their first-ever NCAA Championship berth under her guidance. Holt was a six-time conference coach of the year during her Notre Dame tenure.

Following Holt’s retirement, Irish men’s head coach John Handrigan was elevated to the Director of Golf position and tasked with selecting a coaching staff capable of elevating the team to elite status once again. Handrigan is confident that the program is well-positioned for the present and future with new head coach Caroline Powers Ellis and assistant coach Kari Bellville leading the way.

“I’m really excited about the staff that is in place to lead and direct our women’s golf program,” Handrigan said. “I think they’ve made some wonderful strides and changes over the fall semester and I’m excited to see more of what they bring to the program, especially this spring with a talented team.”

Handrigan praised the effort that Ellis and Bellville have put into recruiting talented players to Notre Dame.

“With recruiting, they’re hitting the trail and going after it pretty hard,” Handrigan said. “Getting on the road and seeing some of the best players in the world.”

But the Irish will need a strong showing from their current roster to find success in 2023. Thankfully, they seem to have the pieces needed to do so. Notre Dame returns all five of its players who competed in the 2022 ACC Championship, led by junior Chloe Schiavone, who finished in 24th place and qualified for the NCAA Regionals. Sophomores Jackie Feldman and Montgomery Ferreira joined Schiavone in the top 50. The Irish finished 12th in the ACC last season. But Ellis and Bellville are highly motivated to bring them back to the top of the conference.

“As coaches, I think they have very high standards and that’s what we expect at Notre Dame,” Handrigan said. “I’m excited about what they’ve implemented, as far as trying to build our program to be a competitive one at Notre Dame and in the ACC.”

Notre Dame enters the spring on the heels of what was a successful fall season. However, it was also one marred with injuries that prevented several top players from competing at times. The Irish began play in September at the Badger Invitational, where they earned a second-place finish out of 13 teams. Ferreira took home the individual title at the event.

They followed their debut with a pair of top-five finishes at the Barbara Nicklaus Cup and the Ivy Intercollegiate. Ferreira and senior Lauren Beaudreau lead the way for the Irish in those impressive showings. Both players placed in the top ten in both events. After making a trip to Kansas for the Marilynn Smith Sunflower Invitational, Notre Dame wrapped up their fall slate in late October. They finished tied for seventh among a strong Olde Stone Intercollegiate field.

Over the next several months, the team’s primary objective was getting healthy for the spring season.

“The women’s team has battled some injuries over the course of the fall, so the goal is to try to get all the women healthy and ready to compete this spring,” Handrigan said. “In the fall, when they weren’t as healthy as they could be, it made it tough to compete at the highest level.”

Fortunately, the Irish appear to have accomplished that goal. The Irish were at full strength this past weekend when they traveled to Orlando for a preseason practice trip.

“They just finished a practice trip this past weekend in Orlando and had a lot of success,” Handrigan said. “Players were playing well and [were] pretty close to being 100% healthy, which is the most important thing because we have a very strong team on the women’s [side].”

Those winter trips to Florida have been vital for Notre Dame’s preparation. Weather conditions have obviously made it nearly impossible for the team to practice outdoors in South Bend in recent weeks.

“We were fortunate to have both teams get down to Florida and get some prep in,” Handrigan said. “We have a great indoor facility here to practice on, but there’s nothing like playing on grass, so we get down to Florida as much as we can to prepare for that first event.”

For the Irish women, that first event will require a return trip to Florida for the Columbia Classic from Feb. 11-13. That will be the first of four regular-season competitions for the Irish in advance of the ACC Championship in April.

It’s never easy for a team to find instant success with a new coaching staff. That is especially true when that staff is trying to replace one of the best coaches in program history. But the Irish are confident in their ability to do just that.

Contact Matthew Crow at mcrow@nd.edu.