SEDONA, Ariz. – The snow flurries once again touched down in Flagstaff earlier this week, but the Northern Arizona University golf team is all smiles as it hits the road—albeit a short ride from the Mountain town—for sunny Sedona this Saturday and Sunday to host the 12th annual Red Rocks Invitational.
Unlike the previous Sedona tournaments the Lumberjacks have hosted, though, this year's Red Rocks will be a three-round tournament with the first 36 holes teeing off 8:30 a.m. MT Saturday. The final round Sunday will begin at the same time, and both days will be shotgun starts.
In total, 12 other schools and universities and 74 athletes will accompany NAU on the Oakcreek Country Club golf course this weekend, as the weather forecast calls for partial cloud coverage but highs in the low 60's and no chance of rain.
"We're hoping our golfers can continue the progress they've been making this spring, which has been encouraging to say the least," said Head Coach Brad Bedortha. "There's going to be good competition here, and we believe it's going to be a good tournament with a lot of impressive scores. It should be exciting to watch."
Most recently, the Lumberjacks are coming off a sixth-place showing at the Rio Verde Invitational (40-over par 904). Leading the squad was sophomore Sofia Anokhina, who finished third-overall with a 1-over 217 three-round score. So far this spring, Anokhina has two top-three finishes, including a tournament victory to open the season at the Battle of the Rock Tournament, and is scoring at an average clip of 72.00.
Other stand out NAU golfers this spring include senior Kim Cifuentes and junior Sierra Bezdicek. At Rio Verde, Cifuentes shot a 6-over 78 to begin the tournament but rallied in the second and third rounds to finish tied for 21st with a 9-over 225 total. She will score out of the No. 2 position this weekend.
Bezdicek, playing as an individual, turned in the second-best scorecard for NAU at the Rio Verde tourney at 6-over 222. She ended in a tie for 11th after flirting with a top-three finish for the first two rounds (70-73). With her recent performance, Bezdicek has worked her way into the lineup and will score out of the No. 3 slot in Sedona.
"Recently, given our off-day Monday and a snow day Tuesday, we've been focusing on our technique," said Graduate Assistant Coach Langley Vannoy. "At the same time, integrated into those technique drills are fun, competitive games to keep the mood light and to make sure our golfers aren't stressing too much or psyching themselves out."
"Our practice Wednesday, though, was probably the best one we've had all week. We spent close to an hour and 45 minutes on the putting green, which is the area Coach Bedortha and I believed our athletes need a little more help with. They seemed focused—putting in their full effort—and we like where we stand as a team going into Red Rocks."
In the 12 year history of this invite, the Lumberjacks have won a third of them. The squad won the inaugural 2006 tourney, went back-to-back in 2010 and 2011, and emerged as the victors once again in 2015.
"Two seasons ago, we won this tournament with Cifuentes, Saum, Bezdicek and Akine in the lineup," said Bedortha. "They've shown and proven they can play well on this golf course, and we're hoping for similar performances this time around."
There are no live stats available for this weekend's action from Sedona, but make sure to follow us on Twitter for updates throughout Saturday and Sunday.