Stevens: Jil Trujillo's Lobos Look For Strong MW Showing

April 18, 2012

New Mexico Lobos Women's Golf --- At the Mountain West Championships

When: Friday (8:50 a.m.) -Saturday (8 a.m.) -Sunday (8 a.m.)
Where: Wigwam Golf Resort (Gold Course) - Litchfield Park, Ariz.

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

If you play Lobo golf for Coach Jill Trujillo and you are heading to the Mountain West Championships, there is really only one thing on your mind -- winning.

"I'm going for the win," said senior Rebecca Hellbom, looking for her third MW team title as a Lobo.

Yes, winning the 2012 Mountain title is on the forefront of every Lobo mind as the Lobos head to the Wigwam Resort in Litchfield Park, Ariz., for the 2012 title chase. The proud tradition of this New Mexico program is one built, in part, on grabbing trophies at the end of conference tournaments.

The Lobos have won seven of 12 MW titles and three of the last four. They have never finished below fourth place. But the Lobos didn't win in 2011 and are not favored on paper to win in 2012. But they are close.

TCU is a bump ahead of the Mountain pack with a No. 34 ranking and is the favorite to defend its 2011 title. Then you have a three-team logjam with No. 46 San Diego State, No. 48 UNLV and No. 49 New Mexico. Those three teams are all good enough to snatch the 2012 title away from TCU.

The Mountain also has No. 89 Colorado State, No. 122 Wyoming and No. 159 Boise State. It would be a monumental upset for any of those three teams to slip past all four of the teams ranked ahead of them.

"Of course, we think we can win again," said UNM senior, Sarah Salvo. "We are working hard towards it, lots of practice workouts, lots of mental strengthening, too."

In golf, like all sports, confidence is a huge plus. The Lobos have played well at times in the spring, but are coming off back-to-back tournaments in which they finished near the bottom of the pack. They were 15th out of 16 teams on March 18-20 in San Diego and 14th out of 17 teams on March 30-April in Tempe, Ariz.

To wear the 2012 MW crown, the Lobos need to play better - and play with confidence. "Victory starts in your head and I'm set on doing this," said Hellbom, "I think we can win."

Said Salvo: "You work really hard and you hit a thousand balls, but when you get there, it's one shot at a time and that's really mental. You have to really trust in your whole routine that you have worked on all these months and years, believing in yourself, believing in the entire team, believing we can do this."

The tournament title is important to the Lobos, important to Trujillo, and important to the program. But there also is another carrot dangling in front of the Lobos at the MW chase - an NCAA berth.

The Lobos were on the NCAA bubble in 2011, finished fourth at that year's MW tournament, but picked up the program's 19th straight NCAA bid. It didn't come easy that year as the Lobos threw themselves into an early nine-hole hole, but rallied over the final 36 holes to finish fourth.

The Lobos probably are on that NCAA bubble again heading to Wigwam and could help their NCAA bid with a strong team score.

"The head-to-head wins are going to be very important for us, for sure," said Trujillo, considering the tight pack featuring Lobos, TCU, SDSU and UNLV.

The Lobo golfers heading to Litchfield Park are Hellbom, Salvo and sophomores Manon De Roey, Sofia Hoglund and Sammi Stevens. Junior Beth Buchner, who has been in the starting lineup since her freshman season, is out with a back injury. "She is so competitive, it's really, really difficult for her to stay home," said Trujillo. "But we had to do it."

The Lobos will be looking to their seniors - Hellbom and Salvo - to help extend the UNM season and extend the seniors' career as Lobos.

"Being a senior, I thought, `It's my time," said Salvo of shouldering a leadership role.

Said Trujillo: "It's hard for them (seniors) to think about the end. You never want to think that your last stroke, is your last stroke in college golf. We want to prolong that as much as possible for both of them."

TCU heads into the Mountain championships with a 300.77 stroke average and is 3-0 in head-to-head vs. UNM. SDSU is at 301.69 and is 3-3 against the Lobos. UNLV has a 302.73 stroke average and is 4-2 vs. the Lobos.

Senior Sarah Salvo


UNM has a 304.27 stroke average, but golf - a game of inches and strokes - is reflected in CSU's stroke count of 304.74, which has them ranked 40 spots below UNM.

The Lobos looked to lean on Hellbom and Salvo in last year's MW tournament and the then-juniors came up big - along with then-freshman Sammi Stevens. Hellbom shot a 70 in the final round to surge into a tie for ninth place along with Stevens, who had a career-low 219 total. Salvo began UNM's charge with a 72 in last year's second round.

New Mexico went into the 2011 championships with a 304.08 stroke average and went low to post a 294.67 average over 54 holes, which helped their at-large invite into NCAA play. The Lobos don't have to post a win in Arizona to make the NCAA field, but a low score would be helpful - as would slipping past a few MW rivals. The MW champ, however, does get an automatic bid to NCAA play.

Hellbom has finished in the Top Ten at conference in her three previous seasons: ninth in 2011, sixth in 2010 and third in 2009. There are only three MW golfers with a stroke average under 75: SDSU's Christine Wong (73.96), CSU's Brianna Espinoza (74.13) and TCU's Brooke Beeler (74.69). Hellbom is at 76.69.

"I've always played pretty well at conference," said Hellbom. "I feel like I'm becoming a strong leader for the team, which I'm very proud and honored to be. I'm going for the win."

Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and Sports Columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at rstevens50@comcast.net.