FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – For many, choosing a college to attend can be an apprehensive process. When it comes to junior Northern Arizona golfer Carly Akine, though, there was never really any doubt regarding what university she wanted to call "home." From the early age of 10, Akine confesses she always had her sights set on Flagstaff and NAU.
"Growing up, I always wanted to come here," says Akine through a smile. "My mom attended NAU for about three years, and she loved it up here, and my family just loves it in general. Every Fourth of July actually, we'd come to Flagstaff to pick apples and make apple pie. It was a lot of fun, and we just made a ton of memories."
Like most, Akine did a lot of things with her family growing up. In fact, it was her father, Blaine, who taught her how to golf. Akine confides that her, her father and her older brother would often times head out to Continental Golf Course here in Flagstaff and bond over golf, life and everything in between.
"We used to have a condo up here in Flagstaff, like right across the street from Continental, and they have that little par-3 course," says Akine. "We would walk over there and play that course whenever we would come up here. I remember when I was about 10, I saw the NAU women's golf team on that course, and I just sat there and watched them. Back then, it looked like they were hitting the ball so far."
It was around that time when Akine decided that golf was her calling. The NAU junior-soon-to-be-senior admits, though, she picked it up at a relatively older age compared to her teammates and other golfers. It wasn't for a lack of interest, but rather a busy schedule filled with dance classes and cheerleading practice that made the balance of all three so difficult.
"Compared to a lot of girls," Akine continues, "I started pretty late. For a while, I was doing dance, cheer and golf. It got to be so much time and work that I just dropped cheer and dance and started to focus on golf."
It is a good thing she did, too, because it appears that despite spending about a decade of her life cheerleading, some of her coaches didn't even really know her.
"I had this coach for a year and the entire time, he didn't know I spoke English," Akine declares through a resounding laugh. "I just nodded when he asked questions and didn't really talk because I was so shy. He said something to my mom one time about me not speaking English and she was like, 'What? No, she speaks English.' I was a really quiet kid, to say the least."
While Akine does acknowledge that she still is a bit shy to this day, this doesn't mean she carries a timid demeanor with her on the golf course. She understands the kind of resiliency it takes to be a collegiate athlete, especially in a sport such as golf where even the most determined people can lose their patience and waver.
Not Akine, though. An environmental engineering major with a 3.53 grade point average, she is motivated toward greatness and driven by passion in every aspect of her life.
Her admiration for the school and the city of Flagstaff is reflected in everything she does, too. From her dedication to the Lumberjack golf program to the NAU hoodie she boasts during this interview, Akine bleeds blue and gold.
"Probably all of high school, I was sure that I wanted to pursue golf collegiately," says Akine. "For the most part, I was driven my entire high school career toward playing golf at the college level, and I always had my mind set on Northern Arizona. It's crazy to think about, but I love it here. Everything from the atmosphere to the people, it's just incredible."
For her career, Akine averages a 79.23 round score. While the Lumberjack junior discloses she is far from where she wants to be, she does know that each day is an opportunity for progression. That mindset also coincides perfectly with the type of golf program Head Coach Brad Bedortha is fostering, says Akine.
"My career has been interesting, but it has also been very good. Coach Bedortha has been trying to change our whole team culture. We're focusing on a lot of the mental aspects of the game, which I believe is really important. For him to reinforce some of the more basic concepts of positive attitude development that we as golfers can forget pretty easily during a bad round or two is huge. It's such a shift compared to how it was before, and I think our team and the girls have only benefited from it."
Akine is no exception from the advantages of the culture change, as she has knocked two strokes off her round scoring average from freshman year to her junior season.
More important than chips, drives, birdies and putts, though, is the kind of relationship the NAU golfers have with one another. They're not just a group of athletes that happen to get along, Akine says. To her, it's much more than that.
"Being on this team and around these girls...it's a lot like a second family."
That feeling of togetherness and comradery is a unique attribute to the NAU golf program. While schools around the country would certainly like to think they have a good team culture built on respect and friendship, the fact of the matter remains that's just not the case.
However, as it concerns the Lumberjacks, they each share a special connection with one another that cannot be duplicated. It was this feeling, an intuition if you will, that Akine felt all those trips to Flagstaff as a young adult that made her believe NAU was a place she knew she could eventually call "home."
"When I was about 12," Akine reminisces, "we came to visit the campus and there were people walking around in sweat pants. Once he saw that, my dad turned to me and said, 'Hey, you would really fit in here, Carly!' I was like, 'Thanks, Dad.'"
While her father was no doubt joking around with Akine, he was right. Based on her commitment to success on and off the course, Akine has excelled at NAU in more ways than one and does, indeed, fit in.