Seasoned freshman a welcome addition at Eckerd

Published October 3, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - Bill Buttner is literally starting from scratch.

The Eckerd College women's golf coach, leading the school's new program, is teaching Golf 101 to some Division II players who are, let's say, green to the game.

"Where to tee the ball up - you name it," Buttner said. "What's a pitch vs. a chip? Some of the girls really haven't had lessons before."

One exception, however, is freshman Nicole Lasasso, whom Buttner labels "head and shoulders above the rest."

Lasasso, a native of Quito, Ecuador, played for the country's national team for four years. The 18-year-old participated in tournaments all over the world, including Peru, Chile, Colombia and Argentina; often, per a popular custom, she'd trade team polo shirts and pins with other golfers.

But Lasasso, who shoots in the mid to high 70s, said she always wanted to go to college in Florida she has an uncle in Miami and friends in Gainesville. She picked Eckerd because of Buttner and the "small-school" atmosphere.

The Tritons host the Matthew McDermott Tournament on Oct. 13 at the St. Petersburg Country Club.

"There's a lot of competition (in Florida)," Lasasso said. "Where I'm from, there's maybe 10 women playing on a high level, so here it is a challenge."

Lasasso pushes herself in practice rounds with the men's team, also coached by Buttner (2005 Sunshine State Conference Coach of the Year). Some of her six female teammates, who shoot in the 100-120 range, ask for her advice on technique.

Lasasso has a smooth stroke off the tee (200-210 yards), but her strength is her short-game. That's mostly due to her rusty - and trusty - sand wedge.

The Mizuno club has been repaired a few times and survived a couple bag changes over the past six years. During Monday's practice round at St. Petersburg Country Club, she used the wedge to perfection on the par-5 second hole. Lasasso plopped a 20-yard chip 6 inches from the cup to save par, wowing some Triton men's players in her group.

"Almost had it," she said, smiling. "But a par's a par."

SURPRISE, SURPRISE: When St. Petersburg College volleyball coach Scott White walked into the team room after Friday's practice, he was a bit shocked.

The Titans had planned a surprise birthday celebration, complete with balloons and a cake with 24 candles.

"One for every two years," joked White, who turned 47.

The Titans (15-1, 6-0 Suncoast Conference) have surprised White on the court as well. The defending conference champions, ranked No. 11 in the National Junior College Athletic Association, are off to their best start in program history. SPC hosts South Florida Community College tonight at 7.

"Everyone is coming together," said SPC sophomore outside hitter Regiane Silva, recently named Florida Community College Activities Association player of the week. "We can do some great things."

CHECK IT OUT: The SPC women's basketball team hosts its version of Midnight Madness on Saturday at its Gibbs Campus Gym (6605 5th Ave N.) from 6-9 p.m. The event, free to the public, will include food, drinks, music - and according to coach William Smith, some "surprises." ... The Eckerd women's volleyball team (12-7, 3-4 SSC) host No. 5-ranked Florida Southern on Wednesday at 7. The Moccasins (18-2, 6-0) have won 12 straight, including an upset over top-ranked Tampa last Friday.

Joe Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8129 or at joesmith@sptimes.com.