|Women's golf ready for WAC|
By Anthony Kuipers, University of Idaho Athletic Media Relations
The University of Idaho women’s golf team heads to the Western Athletic Conference Champion as the league favorite and with a strong spring season to use as a springboard.
Coach Lisa Johnson said she is “encouraged” by the momentum the Vandals will have from their last tournament where they finished third at the Anteater Invitational at Irvine, Calif., last month. Johnson said she wants the team to enter the championship, which is April 23-25, pressure-free.
“The last few weeks, our goal has been to keep everything as relaxed and loose as possible,” Johnson said. “We’ve been working hard, trying to get ready, but I want the team to go in feeling no pressure from myself or from the outside.”
Senior Kayla Mortellaro won last year’s championship as the team finished sixth overall at Longbow Golf Club, the same course they will be playing this year. Mortellaro is first in the WAC in individual scoring average with a 72.93, while fellow senior Teo Poplawski is eighth with a 76.48. The team enters the championship second behind San Jose State in team scoring average with 303.4.
Johnson said she is pleased with how much the team has progressed since the beginning of the season, especially in its competitiveness.
“Our team has matured a lot in our golf course management,” Johnson said. “We’ve learned how to compete better each tournament. I feel like we’re continuing to work on the technical aspects of the game and that’s improved. Overall, I feel like the team is much more competitive now than we were at the beginning of the year.”
Idaho has the top four lowest rounds in the WAC this season. Three of those scores occurred at the Price’s Give ‘Em Five Invitational at New Mexico State, where the Vandals finished second behind No. 24 Baylor. Idaho also finished third at the Washington State University Inland Cup and sixth at the Dr. Donnis Thompson Invitational at Hawai’i.
Mortellaro, who is ranked 40th in the country by Golfstat.com, won her ninth collegiate tournament this year at the Dr. Donnis Thompson Invitational after she shot a 75 in the closing round. It was the same course where she earned her first collegiate victory as a freshman. She also tied for first at the Price’s Give ‘Em Five Invitational when she shot 70 in the first two rounds.
Her success earned her WAC Golfer of the Month honors in September and October and two WAC Golfer of the Week awards. She was featured twice in Golfweek.com, which picked the Vandals to win the conference title.
Mortellaro said playing with her senior counterpart, Poplawski, and developing her game have been the highlights of her final season at Idaho.
“It’s been a lot of fun to be a senior and to play with my fellow senior, Teo, and just trying to compete and keep getting better every tournament and working on the areas of my game that keep needing improvement and just looking forward to the future,” Mortellaro said.
The WAC honored Poplawski as Golfer of the Week in February after she finished seven-over-par to tie for eighth at the UNLV Spring Invitational. She also finished third at the Price’s Give ‘Em Five Invitational where she shot a 69 in the opening round.
Poplawski considers herself “lucky” to have teammates she enjoys competing with and is appreciative of the bond she has developed with Mortellaro.
“We’ve been on the team together for four years and over the years, we’ve just gotten really close. It’s been a blast to play with her,” Poplawski said.
Johnson is proud of the way Poplawski and Mortellaro have embraced their leadership roles on the team.
“Their impact is tremendous in both measurable and immeasurable ways,” Johnson said. “Obviously their scoring averages help out a lot, but they’re true leaders. They lead by example. I’ve never had a single issue with them, either of them, in their four years. They’ve always been on time, they’ve always done what I’ve asked and they’ve always worked hard.”
The Vandals are a young team – three freshmen and two sophomores are on the roster, but that did not mean they lacked depth. Many of the underclassmen put up notable scores during the course of the year.
Freshman Leilanie Kim scored an even par at the Price’s Give ‘Em Five Invitational as she tied for sixth. Freshman Mary Sweeney tied for 40th and Kaitlyn Oster finished tied for 27th at the same event. Oster also placed 28th at the Anteater Invitational. Sophomore Rachel Choi tied for eighth at the WSU Inland Cup after shooting 10-over 226. Her top score of the year was a 4-over par at the Westbrook Invitational.
Johnson said she was impressed with the underclassmen’s willingness to learn and develop their games.
“They’ve been a delight,” Johnson said. “They’ve worked extremely hard and they’ve listened to everything that I’ve had to say and the seniors have had to say. They’ve taken it all in and applied it towards their games. They’ve improved a lot over the course of the year.”