TUCSON, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona women's golf team opens the spring season Monday at the Wildcat Invitational at The Golf Club at Vistoso in a talented field.
"Practice has been going very well," said Head Coach Brad Bedortha. "They have had a good mindset and have played well in the qualifiers. I think the five we are going with have a good chance of playing well. We are going to see some good scores."
The Wildcat Invitational includes 10 teams ranked in the Top 100 and 15 schools overall. Host Arizona, one of two top 10 teams in the field at No. 10, joins Arizona State, No. 27 Washington, No. 98 Gonzaga, No. 102 Idaho, No. 37 Stanford, No. 77 Oregon State, No. 55 New Mexico State, No. 58 New Mexico, No. 7 California, No. 68 San Jose State, UC Davis, No. 47 San Diego State, No. 156 Hawaii and No. 30 Oklahoma State. NAU is ranked No. 107 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Golf rankings.
"For us it is somewhat stepping out of our comfort zone and playing teams we would not usually see unless we went to a regional," said Bedortha. "It is huge for our strength of schedule."
The Lumberjacks are playing in the tournament for the first time since the 2004-05 season.
The Wildcat Invitational is the first of six tournaments in the state this spring including the Big Sky Championships in Chandler April 18-20. The Lumberjacks will host three of the six starting with the Red Rocks Invitational Feb. 26-27.
NAU is the preseason pick to win the Big Sky Championship, an honor they have earned each of the last three seasons.
"It shows the respect for what we have done over the last couple years," said Bedortha. "But at the end of the day it does not mean anything. We still have to go out and play."
NAU drew the top spot in the 2011 coaches' poll, which was released by the league office on Thursday. Defending champion Portland State was a close second. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams.
Bedortha's club drew six of the first-place votes and 62 total points. Portland State, coached by Kathleen Takaishi, garnered three first-place votes and 58 total points. Takaishi and the Vikings are gunning for their third Big Sky Championship in four seasons. Montana was selected third with 48 points, followed by Sacramento State with 42. Montana State (34 points), Northern Colorado (27), Weber State (26), Eastern Washington (18) and Idaho State (18) rounded out the poll.
Portland State won the 2010 Big Sky Championship by two shots over Sacramento State and four over Northern Arizona, which led after each of the first two rounds.
This year's championship returns to the Ocotillo Golf Resort in Chandler, Ariz. The 54-hole championship begins April 18 and concludes April 20. This is the third year Ocotillo has hosted the championship. Northern Arizona won the championship there in 2009.
Stephanie Kim is the reigning Big Sky Player of the Year and championship medalist. Kim fired an even-par 216 at Ocotillo last year to win the championship by four shots. She averaged 74.15 shots per round in the fall, the lowest among Big Sky golfers. She finished in the top 10 in all five of the Lumberjacks' five fall events.
Leclair returns to the lineup after sitting out the fall campaign to student teach in Phoenix. She was named to 2010 All-Big Sky second team after posting a 78.4 stroke average last season. She has played in 27 career tournaments.
"It is huge for us," said Bedortha of the return of Leclair. "With her back it will really solidify the lineup, knowing you can count on a score to potentially help the team."
Northern Arizona and Portland State both enjoyed strong fall seasons, each averaging 304.69 shots per round over 13 rounds. The Lumberjacks won two tournaments and had four top-five finishes in the fall. Portland State finished in the top five at three events, including a second-place finish at the Turtle Bay Invitational in Hawai'i.
Results from the Wildcat Invitational are available online at www.golfstat.com. The tournament starts Monday morning with an 8 a.m. shotgun start for the first of two rounds. The third and final round will be played on Tuesday.
2011 Big Sky Conference Women's Golf Preseason Poll
|School (First-place votes)
|1. Northern Arizona (6)||62|
|2. Portland State (3)||58|
|4. Sacramento State||42|
|5. Montana State||34|
|6. Northern Colorado
|7. Weber State||26|
|8. Eastern Washington||18|
|9. Idaho State||9|