Athletics & Recreation / News

Chergo set course of success for women’s golf team

Golf coach Sammie Chergo huddles with Tory Bauman, a sophomore from River Hills, Wis.

Two years ago, not long after the DU women’s golf team had flirted with a national championship before finishing fifth at the NCAAs, head coach Sammie Chergo was appropriately jazzed about progress of the Pioneers’ program.

Chergo took over in 1997 before DU officially had a team and literally built the program from scratch into one of the most consistently successful women’s golf programs west of the Mississippi.

Yet Chergo hardly had time to fully process her team’s remarkable accomplishment in 2009 before she received a phone call from DU hockey coach George Gwozdecky.

An avid golfer and an ardent supporter of DU’s entire athletic program, Gwozdecky offered his congratulations but also recounted a nugget of advice he received shortly after he won a national championship as an assistant coach at Michigan State in 1986.

“He told me a story when he won a national championship as an assistant, one of his coaching mentors took him out to dinner and said, ‘Congratulations George, you built a monster. Now you have to feed it,’” Chergo recalls. “I would never, ever compare our program to what our hockey team has done. But it does make you realize you have to put even more work into maintaining that sort of success than you do trying to get there.”

Consistency has been the trademark of the Chergo’s teams since she charged with building the program. Her team’s inaugural 1998–99 campaign featured nine top-10 individual finishes and five tournaments in which the Pioneers finished in the top 10. It was clear the new program would be a force.

Since those nascent days, Chergo’s Pioneers have captured eight consecutive Sun Belt Conference championships and has made 11 appearances in NCAA regionals.

During that span, Chergo has collected six Sun Belt Conference coach-of-the-year awards and twice has been named person of the year by the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame.

“We always had our eye on something — being the best team in the state, or finishing in the top five at the NCAAs,” Chergo says. “Whatever it was, we worked our way up through all those steps. Now, it’s definitely a different feeling where our players are not the underdog. We’re not the little DU that, ‘Holy Cow, they’re ranked 10th in the country.’ There is an expectation there. It’s challenging, but it’s a different mindset for coaches and the players. They know there is a history of success.”

After attaining national prominence, Chergo perhaps learned her toughest lesson in regards to maintaining success last spring.

Although the Pioneers collected yet another conference championship, the program was stung by early departures that chipped away at team depth. The developments kept DU from posting a top-10 finish throughout the regular season. DU ultimately finished 13th at the NCAA west regional.

This year, four of five competitors from the regional lineup will return in addition to a solid class of incoming freshman.

“Our model has always been to let in athletic, hardworking kids that care about DU and love golf and want to get better in a team environment,” says Chergo, an Arvada, Colo., native. “I think that has really been one of our keys. The first few years … we always had a goal for our program, and our first goal was that we wanted to be the best team in the state. We did that in our second year. We wanted to make the NCAA regional. I think we did that in our fourth year. We wanted to win the Sun Belt Conference, and we did that in our sixth year. We wanted to be in the top five in the national championships, and we did that (in 2009).

“I think our teams have been very successful on setting our eyes on something, and then bringing in the right people and working our tails off to achieve it.”

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