Cal Poly women’s golf coach Sofie Aagaard has stressed the importance of consistently playing at a championship level this season.
The second-year head coach emphasized a team-first mentality in a largely individual sport, and the veteran Mustangs have embraced that philosophy throughout one of the better regular seasons in recent program history.
It’s been a seamless transition for Aagaard — a three-time All-American during her college career at Cal — who helped guide Cal Poly to a second-place finish at the Big West Conference championship tournament in 2016.
With a starting lineup of four juniors and a sophomore transfer leading the way, the Mustangs won three tournament titles and finished second three more times during the nine-tournament regular season.
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Now, they’re focused on bringing a first-place trophy back to San Luis Obispo when the three-day Big West Conference tournament begins Sunday at the Oak Quarry Golf Club in Riverside. Each round is scheduled to start at 7:30 a.m. on the par-72, 6,141-yard course.
“They great thing with this group that’s traveling is everyone can have a good day,” said Aagaard, who played six years on the Symetra Tour and qualified to the LPGA Tour in 2008. “It’s not like we have one player that’s dominating. Everyone is contributing in one way or the other, and everyone has had low rounds throughout the year and everyone has had low tournaments.”
Cal Poly juniors Sophie Bergland, Desiree Gillaspy, Jamie Harada and Jamie Binns will compete alongside sophomore Mallory Muehlbauer, who transferred from BYU during the offseason and has played in every tournament for the Mustangs this year.
Gillaspy, Bergland and Harada were key members of last year’s team that finished second at the Big West tournament — the highest team finish in 16 years in the conference — and all three placed in the top 11 individually.
Gillaspy led the Mustangs with a 75.1 scoring average this season, and Bergland was right behind at 75.2. Aagaard said both players improved their scoring average by two strokes compared with their sophomore seasons.
“In golf, that is huge,” Aagaard said. “That is major.”
One factor perhaps playing into Cal Poly’s favor this week is the familiarity with Oak Quarry Golf Club.
The Mustangs won the 15-team Battle at the Rock tournament held there in February, the first competition of the spring season. Cal Poly rallied back from a five-stroke deficit to capture the 19th team championship in program history.
That number later jumped to 20 when the Mustangs finished first at the 14-team Bobcat Desert Invitational on April 11.
However, last year’s tournament champion UC Riverside will be playing on its home course this week, with four returners eager to defend the Highlanders’ title.
Even if the hosts have a leg up on the field, Aagaard is steadfast in reminding her team to play the championship golf they’ve displayed all season.
“When you get in trouble, get out of trouble. No heroics,” Aagaard said. “Don’t try to go under the tree, over the water and roll it onto the green. Rather, chip it out and take your medicine and play on. Play for the team.”
It’s a recipe that’s work well to this point.
There’s also the added motivation of wanting to win the program’s first Big West championship and qualify for one of the four NCAA regionals that well held May 8-10 at the University of New Mexico Championship Course in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Ironwood Golf and Country Club in Greenville, North Carolina, The Rawls Course in Lubbock, Texas, and Scarlet Course at Ohio State Golf Course in Columbus, Ohio.
“Finishing second at conference, it really fueled them and gave them another little kick, and I think that was really awesome last year,” Aagaared said. “So, I know there’s a little bit of that fire burning this year as well. It’s going to be interesting to see how we put that into play.”
Big West Conference Women’s Golf Championships
When: Sunday through Tuesday
Where: Oak Quarry Golf Club in Riverside
Format: Three-day, 54-hole tournament with 18 holes played each day