NAU Golf - A Team in Transition
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Northern Arizona University's women's golf team had a season that consisted of both good and bad times. The Lumberjack women's season ended with a fifth place finish at the Big Sky Golf Championship. NAU graduated one senior in Kaitlen Parsons who will go down as one of the best golfers in school history.
"It was frustrating that we weren't able to perform the way we should have at the conference tournament," said head coach Brad Bedortha. "We finished with that sour taste from the conference tournament and it definitely doesn't feel very good."
NAU came into the season as the reigning Big Sky champions. Bedortha's goal was to replicate that success but was up for a challenge as he was charged with the task of replacing NAU all-time great Stephanie Kim. The team returned Parsons, Savana Bezdicek, Susana Mejia, Melissa Olson and Laura Jabczenski, while adding newcomers JoJo Sottile and Brittany McKee in the fall.
NAU's fall season started off with three tournaments in which the team did not play their best golf. In its first three outings of the year, NAU golf finished in the bottom half of each tournament.
The Lumberjacks would respond; finishing fifth at the Rainbow Wahine Invitational to wrap up the fall season. Parsons was a major catalyst for NAU's newfound confidence as she finished second individually, after shooting rounds of 73-72-74.
"We obviously had some struggles in the fall," said Bedortha. "We were able to play some good rounds in Hawaii before the spring, which gave us some confidence going forward."
Bedortha's group was able to carry over momentum gained at the Rainbow Wahine Invitational into the spring season.
McKee displayed how effective she could be at the Grand Canyon Invitational. The junior played her best golf down in the valley as her rounds of 73-75-76 catapulted her to a tie for first place before falling short in a playoff. McKee's play helped the team to their best finish of the season as they finished tied for first place. Also finishing in the top-10 of the tournament were Parsons and Bezdicek who finished sixth and 14th, respectively.
NAU then hosted the Red Rocks Invitational in Sedona, Ariz., against a tough field. The Lumberjacks stepped up led by an impressive showing by mid-year transfer Jacquie LeMarr. LeMarr shot a two-round total of 141 on the way to a first place finish. The Lumberjacks finished tied for second as a team shooting their second-best two-round total of 602.
LeMarr followed up her performance at Red Rocks with a strong showing at the Rio Verde Invitational just a week later. The sophomore posted rounds of 73-75-74 on the way to a share of third place individually. Parsons was also impressive registering a ninth place finish thanks to a three-round total of 225.
"The addition of Jacquie (LeMarr) in the spring gave us another player for us to rely on," said Bedortha. "She definitely had a stretch where she played very well for us."
The Lumberjacks' best team score came against the strongest tournament field the group faced all season. NAU posted team scores of 305-292-294 at the Mountain View Collegiate, good for a season-best three-round total of 891.
"We had some very good moments this season," Bedortha said. "We were able to win a tournament in addition to having some very good individual performances throughout the season."
The team's final regular season tournament served as a speed bump for the group's confidence. NAU shot its second-worst scores of the season at The Gold Rush, finishing 11th overall.
Bedortha's championship lineup consisted of Parsons, LeMarr, McKee, Mejia and Sottile. Even after a rough showing in their last tournament, the Lumberjacks went into the conference tournament in high confidence. Unfortunately, the ball did not roll in their favor as the team finished fifth overall.
The team's lone senior, Parsons, was the frontrunner for NAU throughout Big Sky play. Parsons shot a 72 and 74 through the first two rounds of the championship, leaving in her in contention for an individual title going into the final day. The senior would wrap up her career with a share for sixth place after posting a round of 80 on the final day.
"Over the course of her four years Kaitlen (Parsons) has played 118 rounds, of those rounds only three didn't count toward the team total which is quite a remarkable achievement," said Bedortha. "She will be dearly missed in a lot of different ways and definitely leaves a void in our lineup. I do think we have the talent to replace what Kaitlen brought to our team but our returners are going to have to step up their game."
Mejia had a very strong tournament at the Big Sky Championship. The junior was NAU's second-best performer, shooting rounds of 75 and 77 to close out the tournament. Mejia's game peaked at the right time as her three-round score of 231 tied her season-best and garnered a career championship-best 15th place finish.
"Susana (Mejia) has improved immensely during the course of her time here," said Bedortha. "It was nice to see her game come together the way it did at the conference tournament."
To close the year, Parsons and LeMarr were awarded first and second team All-Big Sky, respectively, for their performance this season.
NAU retains LeMarr, Jabczenski, McKee, Mejia and Sottile next season after losing Parsons to graduation and Olson who decided not to compete during her senior season. The Lumberjacks will bring in three very capable newcomers next season as Kaitlyn Saum, Sierra Bezdicek and Carly Akine will join Bedortha's roster.
"With the three freshmen coming in it is going to be very competitive," said Bedortha. "The returners are really going to have to step up their game because I think they are really going to be pushed by the three freshmen. At the end of the day as a coach you want that competition because that helps everyone get better."