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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Florida women’s golf shows potential in fall season

The Gators placed no lower than third in each of their four tournaments

Freshman Maisie Filler adjusts a flag at Mark Bostick Golf Course.
Freshman Maisie Filler adjusts a flag at Mark Bostick Golf Course.

After missing the national championship last spring, no one knew what to expect from the Florida women’s golf team this fall. 

In head coach Emily Glaser’s 10th year on the job, expectations were tempered for the program, and the Gators earned just the No. 17 spot in the preseason collegiate rankings. 

After the fall season for the Gators wrapped up on Oct. 27, it became clear the strength of the team lies in its depth. Not only that, but the top-end talent of the team might be just enough to make some noise come this postseason.

The top-to-bottom nature of Florida’s lineup gives the team a cushion that can survive a rough tournament from any one Gator. 

In Florida’s 20 individual performances in four tournaments, 15 ended within the top 25. Depth breeds consistency, and the Gators boasted both this fall. Their strong individual play led to top-three placements in all four meets, including a second-place finish in the final meet of the calendar year. 

When Florida suffers from a rough round from one of its golfers, the pressure on the rest of the team is not as heavy, as the golfers can rest assured that the team has their back.

Junior Jackie Lucena finished with a 9-over 225 at the Mason Rudolph Championship in Nashville, Tennessee, but the rest of the lineup carried the weight; every other individual finished in the top 25 of the individual leaderboard. At the next meet, Lucena more than made up for her absence with a second-place overall finish, tied for the highest finish of any Gator this fall. 

Lucena, who transferred from UC-Davis this offseason, has been a surprise standout for the Gators this year. Besides the rough outing in the Music City, the California native has finished in the top 25 in three of the four tournaments and in the top 10 twice. Lucena has even begun to receive national attention for her play; she is the No. 41 collegiate female golfer in the nation, according to GolfWeek.

Another golfer who broke onto the scene this fall is sophomore Maisie Filler. After showing signs of excellence last spring at the NCAA Regional, she has taken the next step forward and become a mainstay at the top of Florida’s leaderboards. She capped off a fall that consisted of three top-15 finishes by mirroring her team’s second-place finish on the individual leaderboard in the final tournament.

The Palm Beach Gardens native has shown she can anchor a lineup for the Gators, now ranked as the No. 22 golfer in the nation. That progress could provide Florida with the elite talent teams need to make serious pushes for national championships.

Starting her senior year with the Gators, Clara Manzalini also saw a solid fall campaign that included two top-15 performances. At the Mason Rudolph Championship, the Italian secured a share of seventh place with a 5-under 211. 

As the team enters the spring and begins postseason play, the veteran experience of Manzalini should only boost the team's ability to handle the heftier pressure. Because the team failed to make the national championship last year and COVID-19 canceled the event in 2020, Manzalini is the only active member of the lineup who has been to the biggest tournament of the year.

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Junior Marina Escobar also contributed to the Gators, but she usually remained on the fringe of the top-25 on individual leaderboards. In four tournaments, the Spanish native finished 27th, 32nd, 23rd and 15th. While she has been consistent and avoided forgettable performances, Escobar usually finished in the lower half of Florida’s lineups. An individual who can consistently finish in the top 25 and remain in the bottom half of the lineup is the strongest testament to the Gators’ balance.

After being named to the preseason ANNIKA Award watch list and slotting 23rd on Golf Channel’s preseason rankings, junior Annabell Fuller has not produced the elite play preseason rankings seemed to expect from her. She was unable to produce a top-10 finish across any of the four tournaments and only found the top 25 twice. 

The fact that the presumptive star has not excelled but the Gators still shined as a team is  incredibly promising. If the English native can raise her level of play to the tier she was expected to compete in, the Gators become an even more formidable team for anyone to play as the postseason draws closer by the day

As the team enters a brief offseason before the spring season gets rolling, the expectations around the program have skyrocketed, and the Gators have risen to No. 6 in the country. With a lineup that features individuals that can place in the top 10 at every corner, the Gators appear primed for both a successful spring season and postseason.

The team resumes play at the FAU Paradise Invitational Feb. 7, 2022.

Contact Carson Cashion at ccashion@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @carsoncashion.

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