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Reilly clubs her way to a scholarship

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After weighing her many alternatives, Whistler’s Danielle O’Reilly decided that she couldn’t pass the Bucs.

After touring the campus last weekend, the 17 year old accepted a full athletic scholarship to the Eastern Tennessee State University next year, where she will join the Buccaneers as a member of the women’s golf team.

She received scholarship offers from over 50 NCAA schools, and flew down to check out the campus at the University of New Orleans in February. In the end she decided on Eastern Tennessee because the atmosphere suited her better.

"New Orleans is so different from anything I’m used to. It’s a big city, and I’ve lived in Whistler my whole life," says O’Reilly. "Eastern Tennessee isn’t in the mountains or anything, but there are rolling hills, and it’s a much smaller town. It’s beautiful there. In the end, I decided it was more me."

She liked the campus, the school, the team, the golf course, the people, the coach, and the fact that she can golf year round.

While she will miss snowboarding and playing hockey next winter, she has long breaks for Christmas and reading week to come home and get her fill.

O’Reilly has been playing golf recreationally since she was five, but only started to compete four years ago. She has done well in local and provincial tournaments, and last year earned a berth in the North American junior championships in Dallas, Texas. Only two Canadians made it through the qualifier, plus 44 other girls from across the U.S. and Mexico. O’Reilly, who has a six handicap on her home course of Nicklaus North, finished 11th.

O’Reilly says her results were only one of the factors that impressed recruiters. "They really liked the fact that I play at Nicklaus North, which everybody had heard of. I also sent a video tape of my swing, which they liked."

Recruiters were also impressed that O’Reilly had achieved this level of pay with only five months a year to play and practice – "With a whole year to play and work on my game, they think I can get a lot better. I’m going to try. The season always ends here too soon."

Eastern Tennessee already has a reputation as one of the top schools in the United States for golf, with the men’s team ranked sixth last year. The women’s team hired a new coach who is looking for the same level of success.

"She wants to win a national championship, and for everybody to do well. She’s really nice, so we’ll work really hard for her," says O’Reilly, who has already started to practice for next season.

The NCAA rulebook recommends practice 20 hours a week, so O’Reilly expects to play a lot of golf this summer.

"Every day, if I can manage it. I want to be competitive at that level by the time I head to school in August."

O’Reilly has been aware of the potential to earn a scholarship since she started playing competitively. With the success Canadian golfers are having on the PGA and LPGA tours, more schools are looking north to fill out their rosters.

"Some of the girls I played against got scholarships, and I always thought that it would be great if something like that could happen for me," says O’Reilly.

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