FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The preseason Coaches' Poll pick to win the Big Sky, the NAU women's golf team will look to win a conference title for the fifth time in program history and the first time since 2009 as it hosts the 2013 Big Sky Golf Championship Sunday through Tuesday at the Ocotillo Golf Resort in Chandler.
"I feel comfortable with the five players we are traveling with and believe they all have the ability and the where-with-all to play great," NAU head coach Brad Bedortha said. "I've been telling them we need to stay confident and focus on the good things we are doing in practice and not focus on a bad swing here or there. We just need to keep focused in move the right direction."
The conference championship is being held in Chandler for the fifth-consecutive season and for the 11th-consecutive year in the state of Arizona. NAU finished third last season as Northern Colorado edged Sacramento State by just two strokes for the conference title. Portland State has won three of the last five Big Sky golf championships with NAU's 2009 win coming by six strokes over Sacramento State.
The Lumberjacks are coming off a sixth-place finish among the 19 teams that competed at the Wyoming Cowgirl Classic two weeks ago on the same Ocotillo course. NAU tied for second with Montana among the nine Big Sky teams that competed at the event behind Portland State, which finished in third place overall. Though nine of the 11 Big Sky teams played in the regular season-ending event on the same course as the conference championship, the results may not be representative of what will happen this week.
"Obviously Portland State played well at the last tournament and finished best among the Big Sky but that's not necessarily a precursor per say," Bedortha said. "The golf course will be set up a little bit differently than it was at the Cowgirl from a sense of yardages so there will be a bit of an adjustment from that standpoint. It just matters how people show up and play."
The five NAU players that will compete for a conference title are led by the team's only senior in two-time Big Sky Golfer of the Year Stephanie Kim. After struggling in the first round at the Cowgirl Classic, Kim responded with rounds of 76 and 73 to end the tournament in a tie for 22nd overall. She has the top stroke average (75.6) on the team this season and will be looking for her second individual Big Sky Championship win after taking individual medalist honors at the 2010 conference tournament.
Kaitlen Parsons, the only junior on the team, was NAU's top finisher two weeks ago with a three-round total of 231 to tie for 14th overall. Four of Parsons' six rounds this season at the Ocotillo golf resort have been 78 or below and she has five top-20 finishes this season.
"We're all really excited heading into conference," said Parsons on the Lumberjacks Weekly podcast. "Individually we just need to focus on ourselves and have faith that our other teammates will pull through. We've definitely had rounds in the past where we have all chipped in and we're just hoping for the best this week."
Freshman Savana Bezdicek will look to continue a superb rookie season in which she has won two individual titles and posted a team-best five rounds at even of under par. Sophomores Darian Spivey and Susana Mejia will round out the Lumberjack field after both had solid performances at the Cowgirl Classic.
Bedortha sees the Big Sky Championship as an open competition and has confidence that his team can emerge victorious to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA West Regional in Palo Alto, Calif.
"It should be very competitive; honestly I think it's a wide open race," he said. "It's just a matter of figuring out what each kid needs to do on that course to play their best golf. Hopefully we can play a little bit better, come in with a little more confidence, and compete a little bit better and see where we stack up at the end."
Admission will be FREE for all three days of the Big Sky Championship starting at 6:30 a.m. at the Ocotillo Golf Resort, which is located at 3751 S. Clubhouse Drive in Chandler. For the most up-to-date coverage throughout the tournament follow @nauathletics and #BigSkyGolf on Twitter.