FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Coming off a tie for fourth place to open the spring campaign, the Northern Arizona University golf team will tee off from its second tournament of the season, the Rio Verde Invitational, beginning this Friday, February 24.
"We've been playing at this tournament ever since I've been the head coach here," said Head Coach Brad Bedortha. "Everyone except for the two freshmen has played the course and they are familiar with it, so it should be a fun. I know it's one of their favorites."
Last time out, it was sophomore Sofia Anokhina leading the way and notching the first individual victory for a Lumberjack golfer since the 2014 spring season. At the Battle at the Rock invite in Riverside, Calif., Anokhina shot a two-day, three-round total of even-par 216 en route to winning her first collegiate golf tourney by a full five strokes.
The native of Moscow, Russia, currently leads the team in round scoring average (RSA) this season at 75.25, which is better than the 75.43 RSA she registered her freshman year that ranks No. 3 all-time in NAU history.
Senior Kim Cifuentes is coming off back-to-back 2-over 74 rounds to complete her first tourney of the spring, and she will certainly look to carry that momentum over into Rio Verde this weekend. She is also leading the squad in par-5 scoring (5.03) and eagled holes (2) in 2016-17.
Last year at this invitational, Cifuentes opened up the first two rounds with a 72 and 74 before stumbling a bit with a 78 in the third round. Look for the Gilbert, Ariz., resident to piece together three solid rounds this time around and potentially put herself in contention for a great individual finish.
While Kaitlyn Saum struggled at the Battle at the Rock to open the spring, the junior from Mesa, Ariz., is tied for the team lead this year in number of birdie putts (28) and is averaging only 4.67 bogeys a round, which is second-best on the team.
"We've had a great week, some really great practices the last few days, and they're excited for the tournament in Rio Verde," said Graduate Assistant Coach Langley Vannoy. "They're confident and comfortable."
The Rio Verde Invite will start on Friday with the first set of 18 holes, followed by a second round Saturday and the third and final round Sunday. All seven golfers will travel, but scoring for the Lumberjacks will be Anokhina, Cifuentes, Saum, Emma Reyes and Carly Akine. In 2016, the Lumberjacks placed seventh in Rio Verde with a 37-over 901 tally.
"The mindset for our team is to continue to progress and get better as we did last tournament," said Bedortha. "We struggled in the fall but opened the spring with a much better team performance. Hopefully we continue with that momentum."