If early results are any indication, the Sacramento State women’s golf team is serious competition for a 2014 Big Sky Conference Championship.
Despite many of the unforeseen obstacles they faced, Sac State is coming off a strong outing where the team played to three top-10 finishes, including a win at the Rainbow Wahine Invitational and one top-5 individual finish.
Even though the Hornets won their last tournament, senior Tiffany Nichols said she did not think they were playing to the best of their abilities in the fall due to external conflicts.
“We really grinded it out,” Nichols said. “It was really good considering the circumstances, but we can definitely do better.”
Nichols played in three out of the four tournaments, placing in the top 30 twice.
The women started out the season with two back-to-back heavily rain induced tournaments and then were involved in a car accident while heading to their third tournament, the SCU Colby Invitational, in San Jose, Calif.
Women’s golf head coach David Sutherland is entering his seventh season at Sac State and said he is happy to have everybody back competing, knowing they are healthy after recovering from back related issues, concussions and whiplash sustained in the car accident.
“This team has the ability to be best team I have ever coached,” Sutherland said. “We have a ton of talent and a lot of real positive energy.”
The Big Sky 2014 preseason coaches’ poll unanimously picked Sac State to finish second in conference by receiving one first place vote behind Portland State, The Vikings claimed 10 first-place votes entering as the preseason favorite. Southern Utah, defending champion Northern Arizona and Montana rounded out the top five.
“I have no real issue with us being picked second, but that doesn’t mean we are going to finish second,” Sutherland said. “We can compete with anybody including Portland State.”
Sutherland believes they have a shot to win the conference championship and said this is the most balanced women’s team he has coached in his tenure.
“The strength of our team is our ability to compete one through five; I don’t feel like this is a team that has one sort of elite player that we have to rely on like we’ve had in the past,” Sutherland said.
He believes most of the team’s success has come from the women’s positive and competitive energy they display off the course, which carries over into their play.
Sac State will be returning four out of their five contributors from the 2013 Big Sky Championship, including Nichols, who led the team with a stroke average of 77.19 in 26 rounds.
The team had two players who competed in all four of its fall tournaments: including sophomore Rockelle Sande and junior Sagee Palavivatana, while freshman Chloe Bartek senior, Lisa Persson and Nichols competed in all but one tournament after withdrawing from the SCU Colby Invitational.
Palavivatana has been a contributor to the teams success thus far when she tied for fourth overall with a score of 76-75-73-224 at the Rainbow Wahine Invitational.
She has said her ability to stay positive for her teammates and overall attitude on the course has helped her confidence.
“I have a lot of faith in the team and I feel like we have a strong team,” Palavivatana said. “There are a couple of veterans and I think we can take first or win it all.”
With a three month winter break in between the season, Palavivatana said the team’s momentum will carry over and confidence from winning the last tournament heading into the spring will benefit them.
“I believe that now that we have won our first tournament, I could say that we’re hungry for our second one and I think winning the second one will be easier than the first,” Palavivatana said.
The team opened up its season at the Matador Invitational in Simi Valley, Calif. on Feb. 10.
Patricia Carpenter can be reached on Twitter @SH_Sports