Thriving in its first season

It's not uncommon for a team to struggle in its first year as a program. However, the La Cañada High girls' golf team has thrived since being formed just a few months ago.

The inaugural season for the Spartans is almost over, and they still remain undefeated at 10-0. The team notched its 10th win Monday with a 225-239 nonleague victory against San Marino at the Santa Anita Golf Course.

"It's unexpected," said Coach Rich Wheeler in regards to being undefeated. "The girls are excited and that's what it's all about. We brought the program along slowly and it's kind of grown and grown and progressively gotten better."

Wheeler didn't offer a prediction when he was first named head coach of the team back in September.

"We are going to see what we can come up with. We think we'll be very competitive," he said just over a month ago.

Competitive is an understatement. The Spartans won one match by more than 100 shots this year, and on Monday they qualified for a playoff spot with five matches left in the season by shooting under 240 in eight matches — a prerequisite to petition for an at-large entry into the CIF Southern Section playoffs as an independent team.

This may be the first year for an all-girls' golf team at La Cañada, but this is no case of beginner's luck. Five of the six starters on the team were core contributors to the co-ed team in 2009.

Jennifer Kim and Melissa Leo, the two stars of the team, both led the Spartans to victory Monday by shooting 42s, which is a few shots above their nine-hole average of 38 or 39.

Although Wheeler knew he had talent, never in his wildest dreams did he see this type of start coming.

"They didn't commit to the program until the day before school," he said. "The fact we got these matches is a miracle in itself."

The team is by no means carried by its two stars, the sophomore and freshman combination of Kim and Leo.

"What really keeps this team alive is the four in between," Wheeler said. "They keep improving consistently. They were shooting in the 50s when we started and they are down to the mid-to-low 40s now. That's the center where you usually just expect average help, but these kids are improving every time we play."

Assistant coach Richard Tetu said he sees the team doing well in the first-round of the CIF playoffs, and Kim and Leo perhaps going deep in individual postseason competition.

Despite the success, Wheeler still isn't making predictions.

"Our goal is just to keep going, one match at a time," he said.

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