It’s a new conference, but the Idaho women’s golf team won’t have trouble learning teammates’ names. The squad will return everyone from last season’s group, except for Rachel Choi, a senior last year.
Idaho will transition from the WAC to the Big Sky this year. The team began play Monday at the Ptarmigan Fall Invitational in Fort Collins, Colorado.
“I just hope that the team can go out and play relaxed and have fun, not put too much pressure on themselves, not beat themselves mentally,” Idaho coach Lisa Johnson said. “If we can do that, we’ll finish high.”
Johnson is looking for a strong start right from the first tee.
“It’s extremely important that we get off to a good start because we are playing six events this fall,” she said. “So if we can play very well this fall and get our ranking in a good spot, then it really helps us going into the spring.”
Johnson said it is difficult to improve the team’s rank in the spring after a slow start in the fall.
The Vandals took second in the WAC Tournament last season, but will look for a conference title in their first season in the Big Sky.
Junior Kristin Strankman said that falling short at the WAC Tournament last spring has made the team stronger. Even though the loss stung, Strankman said she will carry the valuable experience into this season.
“I think that was probably the biggest lesson as a team we’ve learned, that we can compete in our conference and we can possibly win,” she said.
Strankman said Idaho led after two days in the WAC Tournament, but New Mexico State eventually took the lead and the title.
Idaho returns six upperclassmen, including WAC champion and Player of the Year Leilanie Kim.
“This year I definitely feel a lot better about what I’m doing than I did my freshman year and all the other years,” Kim said.
After the accolades she earned last year, one might think there’s not a lot of room to improve for Kim. However, she does want to improve her short game.
“It’s what it usually comes down to anyway,” Kim said of her short game. “Make more putts.”
Junior Cassie McKinley will also be in the mix this season after coming off a tie for third place at the conference tournament last spring. McKinley was named to the all-conference first team.
With everyone on the team having played at least one season, there shouldn’t be too many surprises for the players this year.
Strankman said experience should help the team this season. She said everyone understands the process and is more comfortable.
As for the conference change, Johnson isn’t too concerned about it.
“The transition will be easy because we don’t play a conference schedule,” Johnson said. “So we just play a conference tournament at the end of the season. And in a lot of ways it’s a much better fit for us to play in this conference because we see a lot of the Big Sky schools throughout the year at invitationals that we play in.”
Strankman hasn’t given the conference change too much thought either.
“I don’t think we’re focused solely on that right now,” Strankman said. “I think it’s just trying to improve every day and get better.”
Garrett Cabeza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org