CHANDLER, Ariz. – Northern Arizona and Portland State have combined to win 11 of the 17 Big Sky Conference Golf Championships. Odds are one of the two will end up with another this year at Ocotillo Golf Resort.
"We have had some good days of practice and we are hopefully peaking at the right time," said Head Coach Brad Bedortha. "We are excited about the chance to play."
The Lumberjacks will tee it up with a lineup that includes seniors Dakin Whitmer, Alexa Kim and Bethany Leclair, who have combined to play in seven Big Sky Championships entering the 18th edition of the event. Sophomore Stephanie Kim is the defending champion in the event and freshman Kaitlen Parsons has been one of the top newcomers in the league this season.
"The seniors know what to expect and Stephanie won the tournament last year," said Bedortha. "We have been in contention in tournaments and felt the pressure so we know what to expect."
The Vikings and Lumberjacks have been the two dominant teams this season and could battle right down to the wire at the 2011 Championship, held April 18-20 at the Ocotillo Golf Resort in Chandler, Ariz.
Portland State captured last year's title at Ocotillo, firing a 900 to edge Sacramento State by two shots and pre-tournament favorite Northern Arizona by four. Portland State enters this year's championship as a slight favorite based on the Vikings recent performance at Ocotillo. The Vikings fired a school record 871 with rounds of 294, 287 and 290 to win the 23-team Wyoming Cowgirl Classic, April 4-5. All nine Sky teams were in the field, Northern Arizona finished fifth with a 908. Montana placed sixth with a 911.
"We just have to worry about us," said Bedortha.
Northern Arizona is seeking its second title in three years at Ocotillo. The Lumberjacks have won four tournaments this season, including the Red Rocks in Sedona, Ariz., and the Lumberjack Shootout in Phoenix this spring.
Portland State, coached by Kathleen Takaishi, is seeking its third title in four season. The Vikings won the UC Irvine Anteater Invitational as well as the Cowgirl Classic. For the season, Portland State averages 303.37 strokes per round, while NAU averages 304.33. Both squads have fired a low round of 287. Players from NAU and PSU filled the five spots on the All-Conference Team.
Northern Arizona is led by sophomore Stephanie Kim, a two-time league Player of the Year and the reigning individual medalist. Kim averaged a league-best 75.19 shots per round in 27 rounds and recorded six top-10 finishes. Senior Alexa Kim also earned all-conference honors. She tied for second at the 2009 championship.
Portland State's deep lineup is led by sophomore Britney Yada, who averages 75.67 strokes per round. Yada tied for third at last year's championship and tied for medalist honors this spring's Cowgirl Classic with an three-under-par 213. PSU freshman Lauren
Taylor, the Big Sky Freshman of the Year, and junior Tiffany Schoning also earned First-Team All-Conference honors. Schoning tied for sixth at last year's championship.
Joanne Steele's Montana squad could make a run at Northern Arizona and Portland State if the Grizzlies can put together three of its best rounds of the season. Montana averages 309. 09 strokes per round, but has proven it can go low. UM fired a school record 288 at the final round of the Cowgirl Classic, and has broken 300 three other times this season.
The Grizzlies are led by senior Carissa Simmons and junior Lauren Howell, who were both named to the All-Conference second team. Simmons has two top-five finishes at the conference tournament. Howell tied for 13th at last year's tournament. Junior Ashli Helstrom garnered an eighth-place finish in 2010.
While just three teams figure to be in the hunt for the title, several other players from other teams could vie for medalist honors.
Northern Colorado junior Ali Nelson captured medalist honors in 2009 at Ocotillo, while teammate Carleigh Silvers, a sophomore, tied for medalist honors at the Cowgirl Classic, firing a final-round 69 en route to a three-under-par 213. Nelson finished fifth at the 2010 championship, while Silvers tied for 13th.
Sacramento State's Samantha Saffold and Julie Shutler could also be in the hunt. Both tied for eighth in 2010. The likes of NAU's Leclair, and Portland State's Kalyn Dodge and Alexia Brown could also vie for the individual title.
The first round begins on Monday, April 18, continues Tuesday, April 19, and finishes Wednesday, April 20. The winner earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Regional May 5-7 at the Washington National Course at Seattle.
Live stats from all three rounds will be available on Golfstat.