Both UC Irvine men and women’s golf teams won the Big West Conference titles at the Tijeras Creek Golf Club in Rancho Santa Margarita on Tuesday.
The men’s team won for the second year in a row with a score of 849 on the 54-hole course, which was good for 15-under-par. They had three players finish in the top three with second-year John Chin leading the way.
Chin was named Big West Male Golfer of the Year for his nine-under par performance. He became UCI’s first individual conference champion since Mike Lavery in 2003.
Junior Sean Shahi finished second with a score of 210. Junior Tim Cha didn’t finish far behind as he tied for third with a score of 211. Both were named to the Big West first team.
Senior Kenny Kim shot a two-under 70 on Tuesday to finish 18th. He was named to Big West honorable mention squad.
To round out the accolades, Head Coach John Smolinski was named Big West Coach of the Year for an impressive sixth time in his 10 years with UCI.
The women’s team shot a final round score of 301, edging UC Davis by seven strokes to win its fourth consecutive conference titles. The seven-year-old program has now won its fifth conference title.
Senior Kim Lorenzana took home the individual title with a par on the third playoff hole against UC Davis’s Chelsea Stelzmiller for her first collegiate victory.
“It feels so great. It has always been my goal to win a college tournament before I graduate. To have this as my first seasonal win was such a great accomplishment,” Lorenzana said.
Lorenaza entered the final day six strokes behind Stelzmiller, who was in the lead. She would eventually fight back and end the round tied in first.
“I was so nervous [going into the playoff]. Chelsea was in the group behind. I saw her coming in. She is a long hitter. I saw her par the final hole, and then I started shaking. First time in my life I had gotten into a playoff to win a tournament. She had an advantage over me because she could shoot really far. But I had four years of experience on the course. So I kept telling myself to keep playing the way I did that day,” Lorenzana said.
The Anteaters found themselves near the bottom at the end of the first round. Some panic set in, but Coach Julie Brooks calmed them down.
“I told them to shoot two strokes better the next day. Fortunately, they were able to shake it off and perform,” Brooks said.
Perform they did. Each player shot at least three strokes better the second day and the Anteaters found themselves leading going into the final day.
Behind Lorenzana’s performance was senior Selanee Henderson, who finished third at 225 and was named to the Big West first time along with Lorenzana.
Henderson reached another milestone on Tuesday, as she became the third player in Big West history to the All-Big West first team for all four years.
“[Selanee] was steady,” Brooks said. “She didn’t put as well as she would have liked, but she hit some of the best iron shots [in the tournament]. Her chipping was tremendous. Its just a matter of time, and a short period of time before she puts it all together.”
Sophomore Patty Chawalitmetha placed fourth at 227 and was named to the second team.
For the second straight year, Brooks was named Big West Coach of the Year.
The women’s team took the crown, and was not even playing to its full potential.
“Patty is such a good player,” Brooks said. “She had that 71 the second round. Struggled with her driver just a little bit, but she is hitting her iron unbelievably. Once the driver gets going she going to break out any second too.”
The Anteaters could have had at least two other players take the title in Henderson and Chawalitmetha; instead they finished third and fourth. Coach Brooks believes both can still break out.
Though Anteaters have dominated the Big West over the last few years, the players are still feeling nerves. The young players are stepping up and taking the footsteps of their predecessors; even while playing nervously they perform well.
As they gain the experience and get more comfortable, the Lady Anteaters are going to be a scary force to be reckoned with.
Coach Brooks can see the players shaking off their nerves earlier in the rounds, so it shouldn’t be a big issue at the NCAA regionals.
The announcement of the location for the tournament will be at 2 p.m. on Monday. It is likely that they will compete in the West Regional in Sacramento, a course the Anteaters have already played and have already been preparing for.
For a month now, the Anteaters have been playing long yardage to adapt to the long courses in the NCAA and have been working on chipping and putting.
A top finish in the national is completely realistic. Last season, teams like Florida, who were slam dunk picks to finish in the top did not make it. With a squad that is scarily getting better and that has the potential to break out, Brook’s Anteaters can make a splash on the national stage
The women play May 8-10 and the men on May 15-17.
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