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Anokhina Wins Big Sky Championships, First Lumberjack Since 2010

Northern Arizona's Sofia Anokhina celebrates her victory Sunday.
Northern Arizona's Sofia Anokhina celebrates her victory Sunday.

BOULDER CITY, Nev. – It was not easy for Northern Arizona University's Sofia Anokhina—as she double bogeyed on No. 16 to move to 3-over par for the round—but the Lumberjack sophomore finished with a tournament scorecard of 2-over 218 to secure the individual title by three strokes at Big Sky Conference Championships Sunday afternoon.

For Anokhina, she becomes the first NAU golfer since Stephanie Kim in 2010 to win the conference championship tournament, and only the sixth Lumberjack in the history of the program to accomplish such a feat.

With the victory, Anokhina also surpasses Kim on the "Most Wins in a Single Season" list as the 2017 Big Sky's "Player of the Year" notched her fourth today.

"It feels really good," said Anokhina when asked about winning the conference title. "It has been a really stressful day today, so it still hasn't hit me yet that I won. Even though I'm not completely satisfied with the way I played today, it's always good to win and it gives me a chance to compete at regionals in a couple weeks."

Anokhina's round today was a bit of an outlier compared to Friday and Saturday. After posting a combined 5-over 77 score during the first two rounds of action on the front nine, Anokhina turned in a 1-under 35 score on the same stretch of holes Sunday. The momentum she built on the latter half of the course earlier in the weekend stalled out today as she logged a 4-over 40 with no birdies. Previously on the back nine, Anokhina had tapped in a total of eight birdies.   

Her resiliency is probably the biggest take away, though, considering the winds really started to pick up and create havoc on the last four holes she played. When things got difficult on No. 16, Anokhina buckled down and did what she had to in order to maintain a two-stroke lead and, eventually, win the tournament.

"I definitely didn't make as many mistakes on the front nine," said Anokhina. "I stayed pretty safe and consistent. On the back nine and especially on No. 16, it was a struggle. I saved par on No. 17 with a seven foot putt and when I got to No. 18, I was telling [Graduate Assistant Coach] Langley Vannoy, 'I don't know what to do; I'm scared of this wind and I'm scared of this hole.' But she told me to play my game, stick to my plan and I was able to do that."

Compared to last year's Big Sky's, Anokhina improved her 54-hole score by two strokes.

"First and foremost, she's a great kid," said Head Coach Brad Bedortha. "For lack of a better phrase, [Anokhina] is a coach's dream. She's a phenomenal kid, a phenomenal player, she's a great representative of our school, and it's just so great to see her flourish. To back up the Big Sky 'POTY' award by winning the conference tournament, I couldn't be more proud."

As a team, the Lumberjacks actually moved up to fourth-place with a three-day tally of 57-over 921. In fact, the team leaderboard saw a lot of crazy things today, including a tie for first place between Idaho and Sacramento State. When it was all said and done, it was the Hornets topping the Vandals in the two-team playoff.

Additionally, No. 3 Portland State (56-over), No. 4 NAU (57-over) and No. 5 Northern Colorado (58-over) were all separated by three shots.

The squad's best round of the weekend (14-over 302) came Sunday as NAU received huge performances from junior Sierra Bezdicek and freshman Loren Skibba.

Bezdicek looked like a different player on the Boulder Creek Golf Course Sunday, posting a 2-over 38 on the front and a 1-over 37 on the back for a 3-over 75 total. Those scores become even more remarkable considering Bezdicek shot a 19-over 91 on Friday and a 10-over 82 on Saturday. Marking 15 bogeys, five doubles and one triple during the first two rounds, Bezdicek only scored four bogeys today—one of which was cancelled out by a birdie putt on the tough No. 9 hole.

Skibba also brought her "A-game" to the course this morning, moving up three spots on the individual leaderboard to 31st with a 3-over 75 Sunday and a 22-over 238 for the weekend. Skibba, in fact, matched Anokhina shot-for-shot today on the front nine, turning in a 1-under 35 and beginning her round with seven straight par putts.

Like Bezdicek, Skibba marked 15 bogeys through the first two rounds but only four Sunday, which is a true testament to the progression and composure this freshman boasts.  

"[Skibba] has a load of talent and ability," said Bedortha, "but she struggles with keeping a good attitude sometimes. Today from the get-go, I didn't see that self-doubt; her attitude was spot-on and she played competitively throughout the entire round. [Bezdicek] was kind of the same story. She settled in today and played phenomenally. For those two to step up the way they did today was awesome."

After a great, three-year career at NAU, senior Kim Cifuentes likely played her last round as a Lumberjack this morning/afternoon, shooting a 5-over 77 and a 23-over 239 for the weekend. Subtracting the triple bogey she recorded on No. 9 today, Cifuentes play beautifully.

Her teammate Kaitlyn Saum was the second-highest finisher for the Lumberjacks on the individual leaderboard at Big Sky Championships, placing 11th overall (14-over 230). Saum got off to a very hot start, parring all nine holes on the front half of the course, but was plagued by four consecutive bogeys to begin the back nine.

All in all, though, 2017 conference championships was a good showing for the entire team in general, said Bedortha.

"[Cifuentes] had one bad hole, but rallied back and kept fighting the whole back nine," said the NAU head coach. "I felt badly for [Saum] because she started out great, and then she just got in a bad funk. With that said, she kept a great attitude and she was trying the whole time. The entire team competed the way Coach Vannoy and I want to see them compete. We did a lot of really good things today."