Women of Troy to tee off in Tennessee

Fresh off another top-five NCAA finish, the USC women’s golf team looks to build on its strong 2010 campaign as it kicks off its season with the Mason Rudolph Fall Preview in Nashville, Tenn.

Encore performance · Sophomore Sophia Popov looks to lead the Women of Troy to an NCAA title after a stellar freshman campaign. - Photo courtesy of Sports Information

Led by USC coach Andrea Gaston, the 2011 National Golf Coaches Association Coach of the Year, the Women of Troy retain a core of five key starters, including All-American senior Lisa McCloskey and standout sophomore Sophia Popov.

Also returning are sophomore Rachel Morris, junior Cyna Rodriguez and senior Inah Park. The Women of Troy strengthened their lineup with the addition of top freshman recruits Kristen Park and Doris Chen, both of whom are U.S. junior champions.

The loss of Lizette Salas, one of USC’s top performers last season, will hurt the team, but Popov and Gaston maintain that the team’s confidence is not deterred by her departure.

“Our outlook is very bright,” Gaston said. “We have two very good freshmen and five returning starters, so we have a great outlook on what we can do this year.”

The 2010 squad placed in the top five for the sixth straight season and currently ranks second in the Division I College Women’s Preseason Coaches’ Poll, finished with a fifth-place tie in the 2010-2011 NCAA championships. Among their four tournament wins, the Women of Troy earned victories in the 2011 Pac-10 championships and the 2011 NCAA West Regional, yet again cementing their status as top contenders in the nation.

The team’s goals and expectations are running high, especially for Popov, whose freshman season included three first-place finishes as well as both National and Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors.

“We definitely want to win NCAA and just try to lead the pack throughout the season,” Popov said. “Obviously, my expectations coming into the season are pretty high, but I try to keep them low and just want to play solid golf and get into some top 10s.”

Despite her impressive freshman campaign, Popov is keeping an even-keeled approach to the season and not trying to burden herself with the pressure of duplicating last season’s accomplishments.

“I’m under a lot of pressure right now, but I’m just trying to keep expectations low and not think about it too much,” she said.

The Women of Troy begin play today with the 18-team Fall Preview, an event they previously won in 2009, before competing in the Stanford Invitational and Pac-12/SEC challenge throughout October.