Nicole Middaugh has reason for optimism as she enters her third year coaching Sage Hill School's girls' golf team. Middaugh returns seven players from last year's team that placed second in the four-school Academy League. Seniors Angela Choi, Kathleen Huang, Merrill Berkowitch and Christian Liu join juniors Cindy Qi and Mariah Wilson, sophomore Stephanie Cho and freshmen Michelle Chen and Jackie Nam.
"[Cho] has improved a lot and [Chen] has an amazing swing," Middaugh said.
Progress is evident, with one player improving her nine-hole average by 16 strokes since last season, Middaugh said.
"The girls are taking the game more serious," Middaugh said. "They expect to come to practice and work."
"The goal will be to compete with St. Margaret's," Middaugh said of the league counterpart. The Lightning's second match of the season is against Santa Margarita's junior varsity team. Middaugh said when the teams played a few years ago Santa Margarita "annihilated" Sage Hill. The match should give Middaugh a barometer of where her team stands among the county's powerhouse programs. The rest of the nonleague schedule includes the opener against University at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at Strawberry Farms Golf Club in Irvine, and a match against Laguna Beach.
Erin Hong, who reached the CIF Southern Section Northern Individual final, graduated last spring.
Moving to Estancia High, head coach Jeff Perry welcomes three seniors, including four-year varsity player Cassie Stevenson. Stevenson won the Orange Coast League individual title last year and has been an all-league player the prior three years, assistant coach Art Perry said.
"She is a long hitter and is working hard on her short game," Art Perry said.
Senior Jackie Tanner returns after missing last year after being involved in an auto accident, Art said. Macy Dailey is the Eagles' other senior. Juniors Judy Gonzalez and Denise Casillas also return. Newcomers who could make an impact include juniors Bresida Miranda and Jennifer Torres, and sophomores Naomi Beth and Laura Morel.
There is a new twist for Orange Coast League matches this year, Art said. The four teams (Estancia, Costa Mesa, Calvary Chapel and Laguna Beach) will all compete on the same day and course against one another. The top team from each match would go 3-0. Art said the scheduling shift was Jeff's idea.
"This way you only play twice a week; it cuts down on the time away from school," Art said.
Art added that the Eagles will play a tough nonleague schedule, which includes Fountain Valley, Long Beach Millikan and the season opener against Edison at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Costa Mesa Country Club.
Costa Mesa Country Club teaching pro John Ortega will be holding a golf camp for boys and girls ages 4 to 17 Monday through Thursday at the club. The camp, for beginning and intermediate players, costs $125 and includes instruction, a round of golf and pizza party on Thursday. The camp runs from 10 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday (golf and pizza party). For more information and to obtain a registration form, visit the Costa Mesa Country Club website at http://www.costamesacountryclub.com. Click on "Golf Instruction," then on "2012 Junior Golf Session" to view the registration form. The course's phone number is (714) 540-7500.
BRYCE ALDERTON is the golf writer for the Daily Pilot. He can be reached at email@example.com.