For the past 21 weeks, the University of Washington women’s golf team has been proudly waving around the NCAA Division I championship banner.
But it was time for the Huskies to go back to work, debuting their 2016 fall season at the Pat Lesser Harbottle Invitational.
So far, everything is still going good.
Washington made a clean sweep Tuesday as sophomore Julianne Alvarez defended her individual title, and the Huskies edged BYU to become the event’s three-time champion.
Alvarez carded a 3-under-par 69 in the final round at Tacoma Country and Golf Club in Lakewood to shoot past overnight leader Cal State Fullerton’s Martina Edberg (73).
Alvarez finished at 3-under 213, one stroke ahead of Gonzaga’s Ciera Min (69), and two shots ahead of Edberg.
Bellarmine Prep product Olivia Benzin tied for fourth after a closing 73 for Oregon State, finishing at even-par 216.
And staving off a late BYU charge, the Huskies won the team title again, this time at 16-over 880. The Cougars were at 883, and the Beavers were third at 887.
“We’ve been back with each other for three weeks now,” UW coach Mary Lou Mulflur said. “It was nice to get out and play and compete.”
Especially after the wild ride the Huskies experienced last May at Eugene Country Club, edging Stanford for the NCAA title.
“That sense of pride, and being able to call yourself a national champion was so surreal,” Alvarez said. “Two weeks after winning it, I still had to pinch myself.”
For many of the UW players, it had been weeks since they last played in any sort of tournament. Alvarez, the returning top player for the Huskies from New Zealand, last teed it up at the World Amateur Team Championship in Mexico nearly a month ago.
Compared to last year when the Huskies began their season at the Annika (Sorenstam) Collegiate in Florida, Alvarez said this season’s starting tournament had a softer landing.
“As a freshman, that was like getting thrown into the deep end and not being able to swim,” Alvarez said. “Now being a sophomore, and Seattle being more familiar territory, even with a new group, this tournament was a nice, easy transition into our season.”
Mulflur has four sophomores returning — Alvarez, Sarah Rhee (tied for sixth Tuesday), Clementina Rodriguez (tied for 12th) and Wenyung Keh (tied for 35th) — to go along with three promising freshmen.
The Huskies’ top freshman finisher Tuesday was Ellen Takada, who tied for 18th. She is from Irvine, California.
“The biggest challenge we’ve faced is, ‘Are we OK with being the reigning national champion?’ ” Mulflur said. “That was hard. We’ve gotten through that.”
What was Mulflur’s pointed message at the outset of this season?
“I just said, ‘You know what, there is only one team in the whole country that is in the position we are in — and we’ll be in that position until May,’ ” the longtime coach said. “We are going to embrace this. We are going to take the kudos. We are going to represent ourselves with humility, but we are not going to shy away from (the attention) because we earned that.”
Alvarez had to two-putt for par from the back of the green, 40 feet away, at the finishing hole to sew up her career second collegiate victory. … Top WSU golfer Alivia Brown, also from Bellarmine Prep, shot 73 to finish ninth at 220. …
Mulflur said the biggest reason the Huskies play in this Seattle University-hosted invitational is because of Harbottle herself. The longtime member at Tacoma Country and Golf Club just won her 23rd club championship this past summer, and became the first woman to play on a men’s collegiate team for Seattle University back in the 1950s.