Bittersweet finish for Griz at Big Sky golf championship
Olivia Weber earned all-tournament honors with rounds of 71, 74 and 72

Olivia Weber earned all-tournament honors with rounds of 71, 74 and 72

April 23, 2013

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At the close of Monday's round at the 2013 Big Sky Conference women's golf championship, Montana coach Emily Milberger claimed that one of the most wonderful things about the game of golf is that the next time on the course can always be a record round.

That didn't happen Tuesday for the Grizzlies, but they came close, and for one round at least, Montana played as well as anyone at the three-day championship at the Ocotillo Golf Resort in Chandler, Ariz.

The Grizzlies fired a final-round, 2-over 290 on Tuesday, two shots off the best round in program history and matching the best round by any team at the tournament. It was also 11 shots better than any other round Montana played over the course of the 2012-13 fall and spring seasons.

But in the end, the Grizzlies were unable to overcome their opening-round 322. Montana was in eighth place Sunday night and finished in eighth place Tuesday, despite cutting a preposterous 32 shots of its team total between Sunday's and Tuesday's rounds.

It was a tournament of highs and lows for the Grizzlies, and the championship's results show the ever-improving quality of women's golf in the league.

Tuesday was Montana's best round ever -- by eight strokes -- at a Big Sky tournament. The Grizzlies also finished the tournament in eighth place, matching their lowest finish at the championship since 2001.

And yet only four Griz teams have played the Big Sky championship, which has been contested since 1993, in fewer shots.

"The level of golf in the conference is extremely high right now, and it's fun to watch," UM coach Emily Milberger said. "The expectations are higher, and the scores are getting lower.

"The sport is evolving, and we need to keep working hard to get better and better if we want to contend."

Northern Arizona (299-293-290--882) played three sub-300 rounds at the tournament, the only team to do so, to win its league-leading seventh Big Sky title.

Portland State (290-302-294--886), also looking for title No. 7, held the tournament lead after shooting a 290 Sunday. PSU dropped into a two-way tie with NAU after Monday's round, then finished four strokes behind the Lumberjacks with a 294 Tuesday. The Vikings were attempting to win their third title in the last four years.

Southern Utah (306-299-296--901) and Northern Colorado (304-295-302--901), the defending champion, tied for third. Sacramento State (300-301-303--904) rounded out the top five.

Senior Olivia Weber (71-74-72--217), who tied for fifth at 1-over to earn all-tournament honors, had the best scoring Big Sky championship in Montana history, bettering Jasi Acharya's total of 219 in 2006 when Acharya was the individual champion. It was also Weber's best collegiate tournament, topping the 219 she shot last September when she won the Montana State Invitational.

"I'm so pleased that the team bounced back and shot a 290 today, and I'm excited that I had my best three-day collegiate event in my final tournament," Weber said.

Weber was 2-over for Tuesday's round through 11 holes and drifting out of all-tournament range, but back-to-back birdies on Nos. 13 and 14 and then pars on the four closing holes allowed her to finish at even par for her final round in a Montana uniform and just make the cut for the all-tournament team.

Weber played the back nine Tuesday at 1-under, one day after playing the final nine at 2-under to recover from a rough start Monday morning.

"The thought of giving away a round on the first nine holes is just ridiculous to me," Weber said, addressing her ability to shake off some early bogeys.

"If there is one thing I've learned the last four years, it's that no matter how you play the front nine it should have no influence on how you play the back nine. The back nine at Ocotillo is where it's easiest to capitalize, and I worked hard to do that."

Nobody was touching Montana State's Paige Crawford (73-68-67--208), who earned medalist honors by playing at a different level than everybody else, particularly over the final two rounds.

After opening with a 1-over 73 on Sunday, Crawford shot rounds of 4-under 68 on Monday and 5-under 67 on Tuesday to finish the tournament at 8-under. She had 12 birdies and four bogeys over three rounds, with the rest of her holes played at par to set a new tournament scoring record.

Playing alongside Crawford Monday and Tuesday was Weber.

"It was stressful, because I tend to play against the players I'm grouped with, and she was just playing so well," Weber said. "But over the last nine holes I really started to have fun. I was cheering for her, and maybe because of it I started to play well myself."

Northern Arizona's Kaitlen Parsons (73-71-71--215) and Portland State's Britney Yada (70-73-72--215) both finished the tournament 1-under. PSU's A Ram Choi (71-75-70--216) was even par.

Weber tied with two players for fifth, including Northern Colorado's Carleigh Silvers, the tournament's defending champion.

The story for Montana in a nutshell: On Sunday the Grizzlies had to count a round of 87 as part of its team score. On Monday it was an 82 as the team improved from 322 to 307. On Tuesday the team did the unthinkable: It tossed aside freshman Phoebe Tan's 75, because for this round it just wasn't good enough.

Not on a day when Weber, junior Lindsay Reeve and freshman Hayley Bingham all played even-par rounds of 72. Sophomore Tara Green finished with a 74.

Reeve improved from an 85 Sunday to a 76 Monday to Tuesday's 72, but it wasn't the team's biggest jaw-dropper. Bingham, who played the back nine Tuesday at 2-under, shot a 72 after earlier rounds of 88 and 89.

"We were much more relaxed in our games today, and I think we found our internal rhythm," Milberger said. "We took care of ourselves emotionally and mentally.

Milberger added about Bingham, "Hayley is a strong player, and she showed that today with the way she bounced back.

"She had fewer nerves and really settled into the situation and the pressure of the tournament. She really took care of her emotions, and it paid off for her."

Green (79-75-74--228), who closed the spring season with 13 straight rounds in the 70s, finished in a tie for 18th. Reeve (85-76-72--233) tied for 26th, Tan (87-82-75--244) tied for 42nd, and Bingham (88-89-72--249) finished 46th.

Weber will be lost to graduation and greatly missed, but Montana's other four players at the championship will be back, three of them for at least two more years, and that does not include freshman Kyla Clancy, who did not compete in this week's tournament, nor Amanda Kahn, Milberger's November signee from Carlsbad, Calif.

"It's definitely exciting to have a young lineup like this," Milberger said. "It was fun to see them come into this intense environment and work hard to overcome a shaky start and shoot our low round of the year.

"I think this is going to really spark a fire in the players and get them excited for the offseason."

 

 

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