FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The 2016 fall season is wrapping up for the Northern Arizona University golf team as the Lumberjacks head east to compete in their final tournament this year: the Palmetto Intercollegiate in Kiawah Island, S.C.
The three-round tournament featuring 20 universities will be played at the beautiful Kiawah Island Resort, with the course playing a par-72 at nearly 6,000 yards.
As a team, NAU has looked stellar at times this fall—mustering four team rounds of 300 scores or better—but has also struggled maintaining that consistency. For Head Coach Brad Bedortha, it's all about switching up the lineups and trying to find a combination that gives the team the best chance to succeed.
"We look to put our athletes into challenging situations and tell them whether they shoot 72 or 82, we're still going to respect them and treat them the same; what score our athletes shoot doesn't define who they are," said Bedortha. "We keep working on the lineup so we can get to a point where we can consistently carry out our game plan."
"Sure, it has been frustrating, but we have a great group we love to coach, and we have confidence that they will continue to grow and get better."
So far this fall, junior Kaitlyn Saum has been as hot as the unseasonably warm weather here in Flagstaff, stringing together the best five-consecutive rounds of her career (71-74-73-73-71) and registering a personal-best three-round score of 1-over-par 217 last time out at the Cowgirl Desert Intercollegiate.
"[Kaitlyn] has an idea of what she wants to accomplish, what her dreams are, and when she shows up to practice she knows what she's going to do and she works hard at it," said Bedortha. "Some of the stuff we've done in practice has been a bit of a challenge for her because it's not the same routine she's used to. To her credit, though, she's bought into our philosophies and she's giving it her all. I couldn't be more proud of her."
Teammates Sofia Anokhina and Kim Cifuentes have also looked strong throughout the fall, with Anokhina turning in an average round score of 75.33 in two tournaments while Cifuentes has two top-25 individual finishes for NAU.
Despite the long three weeks in between tournaments, Assistant Coach Langley Vannoy actually believes the time-off served as an advantage for the Lumberjacks. Given the practice regime the coaches have implemented all season long in correlation with the rest the athletes have gotten, Vannoy expects a good showing in South Carolina.
"To be able to have two weekends where they could get their schoolwork in order, rest, and get their bodies healthy again has been good for their mindsets and their physical endurance," said Vannoy. "As a staff, we think it is productive and helpful to try and bring about more competition among the athletes at practice. The thinking is, if we can make practice hard and make competition seem that much easier, then that's going to help the team in the long run."
First-round action from the Palmetto Intercollegiate will start this Sunday with an 8:30 ET—5:30 Flagstaff—tee time, while Monday and Tuesday's second and third rounds are scheduled to begin at the same time.
For updates from the Lumberjacks' final tournament of the 2016 fall season, make sure to follow along with live stats here, or head over to our Twitter page for continuous updates throughout each round.