When it comes to devotion to a sport, the women’s golfers of Idaho State University have shown plenty of it, missing multiple days of class over the first month of the fall season to travel all across the western United States for tournament play.
From Aug. 30 to Sept. 22, the unit found itself outside of Pocatello every weekend, participating in tournaments in Utah, Idaho and California. All of the extended trips have created an opportunity for the team to grow.
“The team has become a lot closer this year because since there are only five of us on the team, we all travel,” said junior Jenna Sharp. “So every time we travel for a tournament we have lots of team bonding and it has helped us score lower because of the strong relationships between us. We have a lot of team dinners and get-togethers both on and off of trips to bond.”
Improvement in individual scoring is something the team wants to see over extended tournaments, with that being a positive so far this season. During the recent trip to Cal Poly for the Firestone Grill College Invitational, Sharp was able to drop her score from a 97 in the opening round to a 78 in round two. As a team, the Bengals shot 345 in round one, improving to 328 for round two. Consistency is the key to a successful golfer or team, so head coach Kellie Hooper will hope to see more of that as the season goes forward.
While the travel has created a tight-knit group, being outside of Pocatello for so much time early in the school year can create challenges.
“We are usually not gone a lot in the fall,” said Sharp. “This year, however, we have missed 11 days total, and it has been difficult for all of us girls to keep up with school and jobs.”
The effort required to be a great NCAA athlete goes beyond the field of play, as keeping up in classes is something that the participants have to place extra emphasis on due to their busy schedules.
“We really have to be proactive in staying caught up, talking with our professors, [along with] doing homework and studying on our trips,” said Sharp. “It can be very difficult and time consuming, but it has to be done.”
Courtney Smith and Kristin Phillips have consistently led the Bengals in scoring during the fall season, with freshman Taylor Howell performing beyond expectations. A highlight of the early season for Howell came at the Weber State Wildcat Invitational, tying for the team low score with Smith. Both golfers tallied a 79 for the day.
“Scoring this fall as a team has been the best we’ve scored for a long time,” said Sharp.
Even with the success for the Bengals to this point, there is always room for improvement. The key for ISU is to continue with the steady progress seen in the fall as the year goes on.
“For [an] area of improvement, I would say the short game, because that is where our team as a whole loses strokes,” said Sharp.
Playing golf at the college level may require more work than the typical university experience, but the rewards are too great to ignore.
“No matter how difficult it is to stay caught up on everything, I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for anything,” said Sharp. “I love being on a team where I have complete support and get to play golf in the most beautiful places. Our coach has taught us to become the best people we can be by teaching us accountability, responsibility and how to live a healthy lifestyle both physically and mentally. I love it!”
The Bengals will continue forward with their next match on Oct. 14 in Pocatello for the Idaho State Invitational.