FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – It's about that time of year again to shake off the bitter cold, and snow, of winter and for the Northern Arizona University golf team to competitively hit the links for the 2017 spring season.
The Lumberjacks, who are coming off of a third-place performance at Big Sky Conference Championships last season, are looking for more progress in their mental state as much as they are in their physical one. At the helm entering his ninth full season as the golf coach is Brad Bedortha, a coach who as accumulated three conference titles during his tenure in Flagstaff and 18 tournament victories—the most all-time in NAU golf coaching history.
With Bedortha, and former collegiate golfer graduate assistant Langley Vannoy, leading the charge, they feel as though the team is motivated and ready to make some noise this year and potentially secure their second Big Sky title in three seasons.
"Our golfers have been ramping it up at practice as of late, and we're excited to get back to competition," said Bedortha. "This season, if we're going to be successful and accomplish the things we want to accomplish, our team must remain balanced mentally. Making sure they stay loose and carry a good mindset with them on the course will be huge."
The goal and focus, though, is not to specifically win the conference championship, but instead for the golfers to progress each week and to grow as both athletes and people. If a Big Sky title follows as a result, then great, but it is going to be done the right way: encouragement through corrective reinforcement and building a solid personal attitude.
With this recipe Coach Bedortha and Coach Vannoy have strategically thrown together, it is hard to imagine the Lumberjacks are poised for anything less but the best in 2017. It all begins next Monday, Feb. 13, at the Battle of the Rock tournament hosted by UC Riverside.
"At this tournament, I hope they continue to work on the things we've been practicing and to have confidence," said Vannoy. "That'll be the key: if they have confidence in themselves and in their game, they'll be just fine."
Even though the conference's preseason rankings put NAU as seventh best in the Big Sky, there is reason to believe they will exceed those expectations. After all, three all-conference performers return to the Lumberjack line-up this season (Sofia Anokhina, Kaitlyn Saum and Kim Cifuentes) as well as veteran juniors Sierra Bezdicek and Carly Akine. Newcomers Emma Reyes and Loren Skibba will also don the blue and gold for the 'Jacks.
In fact, during her inaugural collegiate campaign, Anokhina posted the third-best round scoring average in a single season (75.43) in NAU history. After winning the Russian Amateur Open Championship last summer, Anokhina is ready to make more of a name for herself in 2017. To her credit, teammate and the lone Lumberjack senior Cifuentes boasts the sixth-most birdies on NAU's all-time list (154) and ranks first in career eagles (4).
"Honestly, we haven't even discussed the conference preseason ranking," said Bedortha. "I will say, though, that our golfers have an inner drive and weren't happy with their play during the 2016 fall season. As a team, that'll be what motivates them for the weeks and months to come. As coaches, it is up to [Coach Vannoy] and myself to help them maintain that determination."
As mentioned above, the season will get underway starting Monday from the Oak Quarry Golf Course with the first two rounds. A third and final round will be played Tuesday, Feb. 14. All three round start times will be shotgun's at 8:30 MT.
The 18-hole, par-72 course plays at 6,079 yards. The Battle of the Rocks tourney will be composed of a 15-team field. Live stats can be found on www.GolfStat.com.