Four years after being crowned 2018 National Champions, the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) women’s golf team found themselves in dire straits at the conclusion of last spring. Now at the start of their 2023 season, the team is desperately trying to create a comeback story, and if their fall performance was any indication, the story is well underway.
The Athenas struggled through the 2022 spring season, finishing last in the SCIAC but ultimately placing ninth in DIII after earning a surprise bid to Nationals. However, due to significant improvements this off-season, SCIAC preseason polls have CMS ranked as the second-best team in the conference.
This jump is in part due to a team victory at the Claremont Challenge tournament in September. Stella Cheng CM ’25 finished at -7, and Esther Lee CM ’26 finished at -2; having two players finish under par for the tournament was a new record for the CMS program.
The Athenas were ranked No. 11 in the country at the end of the fall according to CMS Athletics, with Cheng, Esther Lee and Irene Jun CM ’24 ranked top-10 in the country.
CMS competed at its first SCIAC tournament earlier this February, placing fourth. Jun says that while the team did not play their best, they have a lot to look forward to this season.
“Our results were good in the sense of providing motivation,” Jun said. “It’s been a while since we’ve played a tournament, so I guess it wasn’t too unexpected. I think we ran into a couple of hiccups, but we pulled through in the end, so it was a good start. But there is definitely a lot to work on.”
Jeissy Lee CM ’25 had a top-10 finish at the tournament, shooting a 77 on the second day with a score of 159 in total. She agreed that this last weekend’s tournament was a step in the right direction for CMS.
“It definitely is really nice to have scores up on the board because now we know what we need to improve on and what we are doing well already,” Jeissy Lee said. “We can know as a team that we need to do a little bit better so that we can get to first [in SCIACs]. But also, as an individual, it’s nice to have an actual score to look at and practice off of.”
Though each teammate plays on their own, Jeissy Lee was particularly excited about the amount of support she received from her teammates.
“The energy that my teammates brought on the course and the messages I received from [everyone] back on campus really helped me feel less alone during the tournament.” Jeissy Lee said.
The Athenas will compete in three cumulative rounds of SCIAC tournaments over the course of the season. Last year, right before they were set to compete in the second tournament, most of the players on the team tested positive for COVID-19.
Lucy Bloomstran SC ’23 said that with the team having so much momentum going into the tournament weekend, she feels that the missed opportunity threw the Athenas out of their routine leading into NCAAs.
“Not having enough players to compete in SCIACs was definitely hard,” Bloomstran said. “We only found out that we were going … a few days before the tournament, so we didn’t have a ton of time to prepare. We definitely want to come back stronger this year and maybe have a more orthodox route to nationals.”
The Athenas’ rigorous weekly practice is playing a hand in their comeback season. While their team weightlifting sessions are in the evenings, the team practices at 6 a.m. at an off-campus range. On Fridays and Saturdays, the team goes to Mountain Meadows Golf Course in Pomona to play a full round of golf.
Bloomstran believes that the success of the team this year will be determined by the players’ commitment to practice as well as perfecting their short game.
“Everybody has their own weaknesses and strengths,” Bloomstran said. “When we practice, it’s mostly a time for individuals to work on what they want to … But I definitely think that trying to get our short game to be really good is important. We don’t always like practicing putting and chipping, so we have to try to lock that down.”
With a long season ahead of them, Jeissy Lee thinks that it is important to keep the greater goal of winning another national championship in mind.
“We just have to be dedicated to the cause,” she said. “I think a lot of us truly believe that we’re going to go to NCAAs and that our team can win. It’s easy to lose sight of that because of everything else that’s going on in our lives … But just understanding that that’s what we’re here for is important.”
Echoing Jeissy Lee, Jun feels that the members of the team must pace themselves in order to be able to play their best at the end of the season.
“I think having stamina is key,” Jun said. “We need to make sure that no one burns out early on in the season and communicate if anyone feels overwhelmed or needs an extra day off.”
The Athenas are looking forward to putting up a good showing in March at the Jekyll Island Invitational in Georgia. Top teams from the country, including Emory, who won the national championship last year, will be there to put CMS to the test. The team’s next match is their only dual match of the season, a faceoff against Calvin University at Via Verde Country Club in San Dimas, California on March 3 at 11:45 a.m.