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Optimism Amid Tragedy

September 17, 2003|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

Goleta Dos Pueblos had plenty to celebrate in girls' golf last season, but the Chargers would like to put the season behind them, just the same.

Channel League and Southern Section championships followed an undefeated regular season and Dos Pueblos quickly rose to the top of the sport, but a tragic event makes it easy to understand why Charger players and coaches are looking forward to a new beginning.

One week after leading Dos Pueblos to the Southern Section championship by shooting a team-best 87, sophomore Maggie Kim took her life in a Santa Barbara public park.

The tragedy shook the team. Members of the close-knit group were horrified that they didn't see any warning signs. Mourning and bereavement followed, along with a period of unsettled adjustment, but Dos Pueblos is ready to move forward this season.

"At the time, it was pretty tough," Coach Doug Mitchell said. "It took a long time to get over it, but we dealt with it last year and now we're trying to move on."

The team played eight days after Kim's suicide, dedicating the season-ending CIF-WSCGA finals to her. They did not fill Kim's spot on the roster -- opting to use only five players instead of the allotted six -- and finished sixth out of 10 teams.

The Chargers have made a pact to start fresh this season. They have not dedicated the season to Kim, nor will they wear commemorative patches or any other type of tribute.

"We haven't talked about it too much this year," senior Nicole Dishman said. "We tried to close it up last year."

A sense of optimism has helped the team move on. Dos Pueblos has five returning starters from a team that set a Southern Section scoring record by shooting 188 in a match.

Dishman, the Channel League individual champion last year, senior Amber Clifford and junior Sara Ovadia are enough to make the Chargers favorites to repeat as section champions, but Dos Pueblos also has added talented freshman Sarah Fox. If those players aren't enough, Mitchell received a surprise last week when Victoria Alimonda walked into his classroom and asked whether she could play on the team.

"She is one of the top juniors from Brazil," Mitchell said. "She said she wanted to play in the U.S. and she heard we have a good team, so she moved here."

Alimonda is expected to make an impact. In practice, she has shot near par, and Monday, she teamed with Clifford to win the Santa Ynez two-player, best-ball tournament. With victories in its first two matches, Dos Pueblos, the four-time defending league champion, has 34 consecutive regular-season victories.

"We definitely have high expectations," said Ovadia, who had three top-20 finishes in national tournaments during the summer. "Last year, we didn't have any expectations. We totally had no idea we would be good. I think it's more of a challenge now that we know what we have."

Still, the players aren't pressuring themselves to perform. The key to their success last season was a relaxed atmosphere, and they will try to maintain that this year.

"We talk about [our success] a little," Dishman said. "But we're still just a fun group of girls. We're pretty relaxed. We all want to win, but we'd rather have fun."

Time will tell if that recipe, along with a new team chemistry, will lead to success. If it does, Dos Pueblos will be among the teams vying for the state championship.

There will be one missing ingredient. Time has helped heal the wounds caused by Kim's death, but the Dos Pueblos players will not forget their teammate.

"There is definitely a hole there," Dishman said.

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