August 2, 2006 - The scorching desert sun combined with a tough golf course had many Southern Arizona golf officials believing this was the year for Team Arizona to win its first Girl's Junior America's Cup, held July 24th through the 27th at the Oro Valley Country Club.
Monsoon rains, however, made the course more hospitable toward teams from Southern California, Hawaii and Washington state.
Despite being limited to nine holes on the tournament's last day because of torrential early morning rain, team Arizona managed to fight off the inclement weather for its best finish in the America's Cup in more than a decade.
"It surprisingly wasn't that bad," said Kayla Mortellaro of Team Arizona about not being acclimated to playing in the rain. "I just got kind of used to the coldness and dampness and figured it out."
Mortellaro, who shot 183 over 45 holes, finished two strokes behind Southern California's Lee Lopez for the individual title. Team Arizona, however, took fourth behind Hawaii, Northern California and Lopez's Southern California, who won for the fifth time in six years. The championship was the 15th overall for Southern California.
The Girl's Junior America's Cup pits foursomes from 18 western states and Canadian provinces against each another for a team title. A different state hosts the tournament every year. Last year's tournament was held in Guadalajara, Mexico and split between team Mexico and Southern California.
Sehee Kim of Chandler Hamilton High School and Lindy LaBauve and Ashley McKenny of Scottsdale Desert Mountain High School joined Mortellaro, who will be a junior at Phoenix's Mountain Pointe High School, representing Arizona.
Players qualified for the team by accumulating the most points on the Junior Golf Association of Arizona tour, which began in February. The four-team members had to beat out a field of 52 golfers, ranging in age from 12 through 18, from throughout the state, including a handful of former and current players from Catalina Foothills High School.
"Since I've been doing this, this is the best finish we've ever had," said team captain Rose Nehring. "The kids played solid all the way through. If we'd been able to play 18 holes I think we could have very well pulled it off."
Nehring's squad came within two strokes of eclipsing Hawaii for third place. Arizona sat in third place after day one, just four strokes off of Southern California's lead. A surge by Hawaii on day two saw the Aloha State pick up seven shots on Arizona and take control of third.
Southern California went on to win the tournament by a commanding 14 strokes over its neighbor to the north, Northern California.
Mortellaro was the low scorer each day for Arizona shooting 72, 74, and 37 - 183.
McKenney finished second to Mortellaro with a score of 194 and was followed by LaBauve, 196, and Kim at 204.
In the America's Cup, four golfers play per team but only the lowest three scores are counted.
Among those in attendance throughout the tournament was a collection of NCAA Division I women's golf coaches. The tournament is one of three allotted times during the year that college coaches are allowed to talk with high school players.
"You're seeing so many really good players at such a young age," said Greg Allen, head coach of the University of Arizona women's program. "I think a lot of parents are seeing golf as an avenue to college scholarships. It's a great way for a young person to get a college education."
Each Division I school has six scholarships available to women golfers. It wouldn't be out of the ordinary for Allen to land an out-of-state player at the America's Cup. Last year, his squad featured three players from Arizona and only one from Tucson - Sabino High School's Rachel Gavin.
Past America's Cup stars include Team Mexico's Lorena Ochoa, who went on to have a stellar collegiate career playing for Allen and the UA, which practices once a week at the Oro Valley Country Club. Ochoa has since moved on to the LPGA and become a national icon in Mexico.
Phoenix's Moon Valley Country Club was the last Arizona course to host the America's Cup in 1988. Planning for this year's event began four years ago, said Nehring, a Tucson resident who lobbied strong for Oro Valley Country Club.
This is the second major golf tournament the Oro Valley Golf Club has hosted this year. In April, exactly three months to the day, the club hosted the Pac-10 Women's Golf Championship. Coincidentally, a Southern California school - UCLA - won that tournament as well. Arizona won't host the America's Cup again until 2024. Perhaps then the weather will be better for the girls.