Defending the crown

With the 2009 golf season approaching quickly for the Portland State golf team, the reigning conference champions are looking forward to defending their title this season.

With the 2009 golf season approaching quickly for the Portland State golf team, the reigning conference champions are looking forward to defending their title this season.

Next week the Vikings will tee off at the Fresno State Lexus Classic in Fresno, Calif., and begin the first of five spring tournaments leading up to the Big Sky Conference Championship Tournament in Chandler, Ariz., in April.

“The Fresno Classic has a good field,” head coach Kathleen Takaishi said. “It’s a good place for us to get started.”

Takaishi, who is in her second year at Portland State, is serious about taking the already successful program as high as it can go.

She brings with her a wealth of experience both as a player and now a coach. She garnered All-American honors after a stellar four-year career at Oregon State, which helped propel her to a three-year professional career.

Before coming to Portland State midway through last season, she spent four years coaching at her alma mater and two years coaching at UC Riverside.

After earning its fourth conference championship in six years, the squad continued its strong play with promising finishes in four tournaments this fall and was picked to finish second in the conference behind Northern Arizona.

In fact, it seems that this year’s squad may be even better equipped to pace the Big Sky than the team from last season that played sporadically before putting together a strong run in the Big Sky Championships.

The team lowered their tournament average from 314 strokes last spring to 308.6 strokes, almost a six-stroke difference, and a fact that has to be a little disconcerting to the other teams around the Big Sky.

“I think we’re going to win [the championship],” said junior Justine Hix with an optimistic grin.

Hix, a junior from Grants Pass, Ore., was part of the championship squad from a season ago and was quick to point out that the Vikings were picked to finish fifth last year.  

A new face will anchor the team this season in former Oregon high school standout Stephanie Johns. Johns originally went to Nevada on a golf scholarship, but eventually left there and returned home to Ashland, Ore.

She attended Southern Oregon University for one year, but never once picked up her golf clubs. But soon enough, she once again began to enjoy the game that she’d been playing since childhood and has found a home as the top golfer on a talented team after redshirting last season. 

“I get messed with a little because it kind of comes easy to me, but really I’m just extremely relaxed,” Johns said about her game.

Johns has already made her mark this season by establishing herself as the team’s scoring leader at 75.63 a mark that puts her on pace to break the current school single-season scoring record of 76.85.

She was also named as the Big Sky Conference Golfer of the Week twice during the fall after stellar performances at the Bulldog/Eagle Invitational in Spokane, Wash., and at the Boise State Bronco Fall Invitational.

Johns, along with senior Kayla Morinaga, junior Danielle Ranallo and sophomore Alexia Brown will present a talented squad for Takaishi to lead this season.

“From tee to green we hit the ball very well,” Takaishi said of her team’s strengths.

Takaishi added that, as is typical in golf, the short game is their main focus because, “that’s where the game is won and lost, and over the past year we’ve shown considerable improvement [in the short game].”