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Trio of freshman stars looks to help women's golf ease loss of all-time great Moan

A star is lost, but a team is found.

Last year the story of the women's golf team was the story of Mary Moan '97. Perhaps the best eastern collegiate female golfer ever, Moan led the team throughout her career. The All-America selection and Ivy champion, who finished in the nation's top 40 last spring, has graduated.

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Moan's loss left a gaping hole in the top spot of Princeton's lineup. Future Ivy glory seemed to be nothing more than a dream.

The arrival of a strong freshman class is keeping that dream alive. This is not simply a rebuilding year, and Princeton is hoping to show this season that one player does not make a team.

No team glory

For all of Moan's individual success, the Tigers still could not capture the first-ever women's Ivy Championship last year. It was a bittersweet spring. This year, the players may have changed, but the goal remains the same. Princeton's deeper lineup hopes to redeem last spring's disappointment by claiming Ivy victory.

"It's wonderful to have the frosh in there gaining experience," head coach Eric Stein said. "We would have liked to have won the Ivies in the first year. We don't like to finish second."

The freshman trio of Julia Allison, Natalie Christensen and Adrienne Gill is among Princeton's low scorers. With senior captains Laura Gilmore and Michelle Mason rounding out the top five, the team has the potential for Ivy glory.

Star returns

But if the team is to win Ivies, it must go through Yale. The Elis topped Princeton at Ivies last year with a 38-stroke win. Unlike the Tigers, Yale returns its top player – Natalie Wong, who placed third at Ivies last year, leads a highly competitive team.

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"We'll be glad to see (Yale's) seniors graduate," Stein said.

The Elis recently cracked into the the top 50 of the Division I Mastercard Rankings. Princeton is out to prove them to be overrated.

If the Tigers' fall season success is any indication, winning is within their grasp. For the first time in the team's history, Princeton won three of its four fall tournaments. The Tigers defeated Yale in each of its victories, but the Elis did beat Princeton at the Eastern College Althetic Conference Championships.

In order to win the Ivy championship, the team must sustain consistent shotmaking for two days. Delivering two strong rounds at Bethpage State Park is no easy task.

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"The tough part about our sport is that you have to play 18 holes," said Stein. "You can't slow down or stop play. You shoot what you shoot. Every stroke counts."

Long and short

The team has always been strong off the tee. The key to winning, however, is in the short game. If the Tigers can sink their putts and keep their cool, they can defeat their Ivy rivals.

Allison has earned the team's top position with a phenomenal freshman-year record. After winning both the Rutgers and William and Mary Invitationals, she is aiming for an individual Ivy title.

The No. 2 spot will be occupied by fellow freshman Christensen. Her strong match play against San Diego State boosted the team to spring break success. The experience and leadership of Gilmore, Mason and junior Sarah Durnan should balance the young talent of the freshman threesome.

If Gill continues to deliver sub-80 rounds, Princeton's depth will make it tough to beat at Ivies and the New England Championships.

Injury

Sophomore Meagan Smith, who finished eighth at Ivies last year, is out indefinitely with a wrist injury. Her fall season average of 84 will be sorely missed if she doesn't make it back into the lineup.

The team feels confident that tournament success is on the horizon.

"(Yale's golfers) are definitely going to be tough competitors," said Mason. "But if we have a solid round we can beat them."

The Tigers will head to the Boston College Invitational this weekend to tune up before the Ivy Championship April 16-18 in Bethpage, N.Y. The season concludes in Amherst, Mass., with the New England Championships April 24-26.

Moan's departure leaves some very big shoes to fill. None of the Tigers may ever be able to take Moan's place. But a trio of freshman stars may be able to give Princeton something Moan couldn't – a team Ivy title.

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