After claiming the program's first national title in 2015 and finishing second last year, the Stanford women's golf team will shoot for the top again.
The Cardinal must replace All-Americans Mariah Stackhouse and Lauren Kim, who graduated after stellar four-year careers. But Anne Walker, the Director of Women's Golf, recruited four outstanding freshmen who should make immediate contributions.
"I think that's the great thing about college sports -- the character of the team changes every year, but our goal doesn't change," said Walker. "We want to be on the podium at the end. The process might be different because of the makeup of the team but the system and approach won't change."
Stackhouse and Kim rank 1-2 in career scoring.
"Losing Mariah and Lauren was tough because you knew you had a guarantee," Walker said. "That's okay. Teams wins championships a lot of different ways."
Senior Casey Danielson and junior Shannon Aubert lead the returnees. Danielson matched Kim with a team-high five top 10 finishes last year and averaged 73.40. She saved her best for last, tying for fourth in the NCAA Stanford regional and sixth in the NCAA championships, recording a hole-in-one at the latter. Danielson is 5-1 in NCAA match play competition.
Aubert carded six top 20s and ranked third in scoring (72.97) to earn an All-Pac-12 honorable mention. She posted a season-best third-place showing at the Stanford Intercollegiate.
Also returning are senior Quirine Eijkenboom, junior Calli Ringsby, and sophomore Sierra Kersten. Eijkenboom played in seven events last year and tied for 23rd in the Stanford Intercollegiate and Peg Barnard Invitational.
Kersten participated in the Cardinal's final five tournaments. She produced two memorable performances in the quarterfinals and semifinals of the NCAA Championships.
In the first, she rallied from 4-down after 10 holes against South Carolina All-American Katelyn Dambaugh before falling 1-down, then upset Duke All-American and NCAA Player of the Year Celine Boutier, 4-2.
Ringsby did not compete last year. Neither did senior walk-on Jisoo Keel, who played in two tournaments as a freshman in 2013-14.
Walker's newcomers are Madie Chou from Santa Ana, Andrea Lee from Hermosa Beach, Albane Valenzuela from Switzerland and Emily Wong from China.
Lee and Valenzuela had tremendous summers. Lee competed for the U.S. Curtis Cup and U.S. World Amateurs teams, was runner-up in the U.S. Girls' Junior Championship and Canadian Women's Amateur, and reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Women's Amateur.
Winner of the 2015 Southern California Amateur, Lee led Mira Costa High to the State Title, and was a four-time Rolex Junior All-American First Team selection.
Valenzuela committed to Stanford a year ago but took a year off to compete internationally. The top-ranked amateur in Switzerland, she represented her country at the Summer Olympics, where she was the youngest women's participant, and tied for 21st.
Ranked in the Top 10 in the World Amateur Golf rankings, Valenzuela tied for 67th in the U.S. Women's Open and was one of three amateurs to make the cut, tied for low amateur (65th) at the Evian Championship, and secured two top five finishes on the Ladies European Tour.
Chou qualified for the 2016 U.S. Girls' Junior Championship and placed fourth in the CIF State Championship, where she fired a 64. A three-time winner on the AJGA circuit, she was a 2014 Rolex Junior All-American.
In 2014, Wang won the Xiamen Challenge to become the youngest-ever winner on the China LPGA Tour. That year, she also won the Callaway World Junior Championship, and has competed for China at the Junior World Championship six times.
"This class probably comes in more experienced than any other," said Walker. “I really feel like we'll have players pushing each other. I expect that we'll see a lot of shuffling as the year goes on."
She is counting on Danielson and Aubert for leadership.
"That doesn't necessarily relate to score but more how they conduct their business," said Walker. "Tradition doesn't graduate."
The Cardinal will compete in 10 regular-season events, playing four during the fall and six in the spring. The first tournament arrive Monday and Tuesday in the 14-team, talent-rich Windy City Collegiate Classic at Glen View Club in Chicago.
The squad returns to host the 54-hole Stanford Intercollegiate, Oct. 16-18 at Stanford Golf Course. Seventeen teams will participate.
The Cardinal will travel to Kona, Hawaii for the Pac-12 Preview, Oct. 24-25 at Nanea Golf Club, before concluding its fall season at the East Lake Cup, Oct. 31-Nov. 2 at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
Site of the TOUR Championship, the PGA Tour's season-ending event in the FedExCup Playoffs, the elite four-team field is comprised of semifinalists from last year's NCAA Championship, and includes Washington, Stanford, UCLA and Duke.
Stanford will also host the annual Peg Barnard Invitational, Feb. 11-12.
"Our home tournaments are unbelievable," Walker said. "I think our tournament could be the strongest of the fall -- if not the year -- with USC, UCLA, ASU, Florida and Georgia. It's a great opportunity for our kids to get with the best players in the world and see where they stack up."
Walker isn't worried about how the team starts, but where it finishes.
"Typically in the fall, what we like to do is use it as a learning experience," she said. "The national championship is a long way away (May) and it's impossible to play up the whole year. For us, it's more about peaking at the right time, and a big part of that is knowing your weakness. The time to look at those is the fall, so that in November, December and January, we have time to iron those things out heading into the spring."