Now with the luxury of a full roster, Eastern looking to make a breakthrough after three years of finishing eighth at league tournament
The Eastern Washington University women's golf team is realistic about the expectations heading into the 2012 Big Sky Conference Golf Championship, which begins Sunday (April 22) in Chandler, Ariz. But EWU head coach Brenda Howe is hopeful that in this final, and most important, event of the season, her team taps into its competitive edge and ends up surprising themselves and the rest of field.
"We were picked eighth in the preseason poll, and understandably since that's where Eastern has finished the last three seasons," said Howe. "But you never know what could happen. I think this team has the ability to finish as high as fifth or sixth. It all depends on who shows up to play. For some reason, our players have become too comfortable with where they are. We need more of a competitive drive. Hopefully in the conference championship, which is a small and familiar field, we can find that edge."
The Big Sky Conference Championship is a three-day, 54-hole tournament at the well-known Ocotillo Golf Resort. This will be Eastern's ninth event at Ocotillo in the last five years, as the Eagles also participate annually in the Wyoming Cowgirl Classic, held at the same location.
In fact, Eastern's most recent competition was the 2012 Cowgirl Classic on April 9, 10 and 11th. The Eagles finished 23rd in a field of 24, which included eight of nine Big Sky squads. But Eastern had only four players in tow at that event, leaving very little room for error.
"Our last tournament was hard because we didn't have the ability to drop a bad score," said Howe. "The effects of having only four was pretty obvious in the first round of the Cowgirl. Three of our four players had turned in decent scores, and we were headed for a really good round for us, but ended up having to count a 90 for our last one, which absolutely cannot happen at this level if you want to have any success."
Eastern will have a full roster of five this week at the championship. And with only nine total teams, instead of 24, Howe is optimistic about her team's ability to be competitive.
"In big tournaments like the Cowgirl, we have a tendency to get lost among the field," said Howe. "We are basically just out there playing golf, and not really competing. In the conference tournament, we will be paired with teams that are basically in the same spot as us. More than likely, we will be within a few strokes of the teams we're paired with, which should help create that competitive feel. We know those are the teams we'll have to beat to have that breakthrough."
Leading the Eagles this season has been junior Jayme Carbon, who averages 80.6 strokes per round. Two weeks ago at the Cowgirl Classic, Carbon shot a respectable 76 in both the first and second rounds, before finishing the tournament with an 80.
"Jayme really had two solid rounds at the Cowgirl, and I think she is definitely feeling more comfortable on this course," said Howe. "I know she can, and I think she knows she has the ability to go out and have a great tournament."
Freshman Caitilin Rice has also turned in a few impressive rounds in the spring season, including a 74 in the first round at Ocotillo just two weeks ago. On the year, the rookie is averaging 82.4 strokes per round.
"Realistically, we're not expecting to go out and win it all," added Howe. "But I do believe there are one or two players on this team who can have a top 10 finish at conference. It all depends on whether or not they have the desire and discipline to fight for it."
The tournament will get underway for Eastern at 8 a.m. on Sunday. The Eagles will play alongside Northern Colorado and two-time defending champion Portland State in the first round. Pairings for rounds two and three are determined based on the standings after each round.
Live Scoring is available via www.golfstat.com