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It’s not often that your rival one year becomes your teammate the next.
But that’s exactly what happened with Michelle Xie and Anna Zhou, the lone two freshmen on the Harvard women’s golf team. Both hail from Palo Alto, California, where Xie graduated from Palo Alto High and Zhou from Gunn High—two schools notorious in the San Francisco Bay area for their intense rivalry.
Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that Xie and Zhou competed against each other quite often in high school at local and regional tournaments. Perhaps it’s a little more surprising, however, that the two, despite the competition and intense school rivalry, had already become close friends even before committing to play together for the Crimson.
“Anna and I have actually known each other well since she first moved to Palo Alto,” Xie said. “We’ve played many tournaments together, and she’s become a really good friend.”
Indeed, the connection between Xie and Zhou extends to even before high school; all the way back to elementary school, when Xie and Zhou used to practice at the same municipal golf course.
Over the next several years, their paths diverged: each found a different coach, a different style of play, and a different high school. But somehow this year they have converged, and once more they have found themselves practicing on the same golf course. This time, though, they are not rivals but teammates instead.
For both women, the experience has been a positive one.
“It’s really cool to be able to say that she’s my teammate,” Xie said. “Now I work with her, instead of competing against her…. [I] feel the team spirit so much more.”
Zhou echoed the sentiment.
“It’s nice to have Michelle on the team because there’s a sense of familiarity,” Zhou said. “When you’re first meeting the team, you don’t feel completely out of place. We can also relate to and rely on each other a lot especially since we’re both freshmen.”
Junior Anne Cheng, a mentor to the two women, recognizes the old competition between the newest members of the squad but emphasized their current status as teammates and friends.
“They might have been from rival high schools,” Cheng said. “And, because I think since golf is an individual sport, there’s always some sort of rivalry—but overall, they’re still teammates and good players.”
Cheng’s statement has a strong statistical backing—in high school, in fact, each ranked among the top 20 nationwide in their recruiting class. But college golf is a different world and something both players are still figuring out.
For Xie, the 16th-ranked golfer in the nation in the class of 2015, the most jarring transition between high school and college golf has been the step-up in academics at Harvard.
But Xie is no stranger to a high standard in the classroom. Last year, she was named a National Merit Finalist and attended Paly High, a school consistently ranked among the best public schools in California.
But at Harvard, the intense academic environment coupled with the varsity sport time commitment has been particularly difficult to adjust to.
“This fall, it was a huge transition period for me to go into college, so hopefully in the spring I’ll be able to manage my time a little better,” Xie said. “Being able to find that balance again is really important to me.”
Helping her adapt to college life have been her fellow members of the golf team; which, with only eight members, is one of the smallest varsity sports teams on campus.
“The size of the team brings us very close to one another,” Xie said. “It’s really cool how we can all fit in one van together and practice together every morning and just get to know each other. We’re all pretty different, but somehow it works.”
For Xie, perhaps the most important distinction between high school and college golf has not been the workload but the tightness of the college team, a sentiment Zhou echoed.
“Everyone on the team is really close to each other, and we all have this mentality of team first,” Zhou said. “You really get to connect with all the team members personally, and it’s a good support system because when everyone else is having trouble, we’re all there to help each other.”
Like Xie, Zhou—the 19th-ranked golfer in the nation in the class of 2015—also excels in the classroom. She was recently named a U.S. Presidential Scholar candidate on the basis of her academics, and attended Gunn, which, like Paly High, is known for its highly competitive atmosphere. For her too, balancing college golf and school has been a different beast.
“[College] was a bit hard to adjust to at first, especially with the step up in academics as well,” Zhou said. “Also, with new responsibilities and having to live far away from home and having to take care of everything myself, high school to college was just a hard transition.”
Judging off of Xie and Zhou’s performances on the golf course, though, you would not be able to easily pinpoint their difficulties.
Xie, who has started all four tournaments of the year thus far, has stood out on the team since her collegiate debut at the Diane Thomason Invitational in September. There, she led the team to a fourth-place finish thanks to a team-best second place individual finish. Since then, she has proven to be one of the Crimson’s most consistent players, landing in the top 20 individually in every tournament she has participated in.
Zhou has also played a crucial role on the team, helping lead the Crimson to top six finishes in each of the three fall tournaments she competed in. Her best performance thus far occurred at the Yale Invitational, where she placed 20th overall en route to Harvard’s sixth-place team finish.
Together with sophomore Lita Guo, the two freshmen figure to play big roles in the future of the Crimson, which won two of the four tournaments it participated in this fall.
“I think it’s pretty apparent that everyone’s doing well,” Cheng said. “In the next few years, I’m sure we’ll keep trending in the right direction.”
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