Laura Ianello sits and talks about her Arizona women’s golf team under a giant painted A, on a wall next to a shelf full of massive trophies.
They are intertwined like salt and seawater, like a desert and the sun.
Her past and Arizona. Her past and those trophies.
And maybe, if things keep going right, her future, and Arizona, and more trophies.
In the fourth year of the Wildcat Reclamation Program, her one-woman mission to restore the Arizona women’s golf team to its former glory, the former UA player and champion and assistant coach and now head coach is pleased but not outwardly gushing about her team.
They have talent, as evidenced by the strong start in Chicago this past week, where they finished the first day of play at the Windy City Classic at Northwestern with a four-under 564.
They are raw, as evidenced by a final-round 293 that saddled them with a third-place tie with Stanford, four shots behind USC.
“I’m really excited about this year and next year,” Ianello said of the Wildcats, who don’t count a single senior among the ranks.
“I know how strong and deep we’re going to be. I don’t think we’re far off at all. It goes in cycles in golf, but I feel like we have a great group here and a great future.”
The Wildcats are also thin, with just seven players. The veteran of the group is Andrea Vilarasau, all of 19 years old, just a few years removed from her hometown of Sant Cugat Del Valles, Spain.
Vilarasau is one of three international players on the team, also joined by a trio of transfers and a true freshman.
Considering that the Arizona women’s golf team starred two of the greatest international female golfers in history – Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa – dipping across the pond for talent isn’t exactly a foreign concept.
“In Spain if you go to college, you kind of have to stop competing at a high level,” Vilarasau. “The main reason I decided to come here over the other offers I had was the connection, the good feeling I had with coach. I came for a visit, met the team, met coach in her world, and I liked it.”
Added Ianello, who played alongside Ochoa on the 2000 Arizona women’s national championship team. “Golf is an international sport. I have the responsibility of recruiting the best players, and I have to go after them. If they come in, they kind of just mesh themselves and become a team.”
Ianello, who recently received a contract extension through 2016 and a raise up to $75,000, is charged with returning the Wildcats to greatness. The UA has endured a mediocre 12-year run that included two top-three finish in regionals and two top-5 finish in nationals.
This, after finishing either first or second in regionals six straight years, with national titles in 1996 and 2000.
“This week in Chicago, they were disappointed because they got third,” said Ianello, who played for Arizona from 1998-2003 before a five-year professional career. “They knew they could’ve won if they would’ve played better. That’s a legacy I want to lead. Arizona golf is used to being at the top.”
Ianello isn’t all about results, though.
Her job is one-half preparation, one-half pep-eration.
She maps the courses for her players and then watches them play out those instructions on the greens and then she maps out their minds.
Junior Kendall Prince recalls the 2013 Pac-12 championship tournament, when Ianello had some harsh words for her team after a particularly brutal back nine. The Wildcats lived up to their name, spewing errant drives that parlayed into apprehensive approaches, and Ianello fumed. After leading on the front nine, Arizona had fallen 15 shots back by the end of the day.
The following morning, as the players huddled on the range, expecting a lashing, Ianello came onto the course almost skipping, smiling and bearing gifts.
“She comes out really happy and says, ‘I know what we were missing yesterday’ and she pulls out her bag and tosses bags of fruit snacks everywhere on the range,” Prince said. “We’re all dying laughing, and every other team is looking at us crazy because we’re running around, chasing fruit snacks. Now we’re laughing before we’re playing, a day after she was mad, and we go out and shoot four-under that day.”
See, this is all part of Ianello’s grand plan.
Recruit the top players in the country and abroad, get them to buy into golf as a team sport, prepare them for the course while preparing them for life, then hoist a trophy or two.
Because grand plans lead to grand dreams.
“So many people work their way up to find one of those top coaching jobs – I’m there,” Ianello said. “And I’m at my alma mater. It doesn’t get much better than that. There’s nowhere I’d rather coach. I played here, I coached here, my heart’s here. I’m always going to be a Wildcat. There’s no other place I could be that could fulfill me as much as being here.”