The Portland State women's golf team has had an up-and-down season, according to coach Kathleen Takaishi, but the team played its best toward the end when "it really mattered."
The Vikings, who were picked to finish fourth in the Big Sky, beat Sacramento State by two shots and conference favorite Northern Arizona by four in a dramatic final round at the conference tournament April 19-21 in Chandler, Ariz.
Takaishi says the Viks have improved quite a bit from last year, when they finished fifth -and the catalyst has been freshman Britney Yada.
Takaishi recruited Yada after seeing her a year ago in the Junior World Golf Championships in San Diego.
Yada "had a pretty good swing, and her short game was good," Takaishi says. "I knew she'd be good, and she didn't necessarily need a lot of work so she could play right away."
The Hilo, Hawaii, native started playing golf at age 8, when she picked up the game from her father. Yada says she came to PSU because she wanted to get away and experience the big city.
In the fall season, Yada averaged 79.42 strokes. This spring, she averaged 76.37, and she placed third in the Big Sky tournament as the Vikings' low scorer. She says she had to adjust to the weather and the school workload, but by spring she had gotten used to them.
"Coach helped me with my short game," Yada says. "I really struggled with it in high school."
Going into the final round of the 54-hole conference championship, the Viks were tied for first with NAU. On the back nine, the players had no idea how they stood. But they knew that every shot could be critical.
Yada says she didn't feel much pressure.
"I acted as if it was any other tournament," she says. "Kathleen tells us to stay in the present. I just take it one shot at a time and try not to focus on the past or the future."
Takaishi's roster is deep - her top five players are within three shots of one another in season average, and her top eight are within four shots. Senior Stephanie Johns leads the team at 76.25, Yada is No. 2, sophomore Tiffany Schoning is the No. 3 player at 77.76, junior Kalyn Dodge is fourth at 78.42 and junior Alexia Brown rounds out the top five at 79.04.
Takaishi works with her players on the mental part of the game, course management, the short game and developing a routine and trusting it. Each player has her own professional to work on her swing, so Takaishi doesn't tinker too much with that, but she provides a "second set of eyes for the pros."
The conference title is the fifth in the last eight seasons for Portland State and the second under Takaishi, who succeeded Felicia Johnston three years ago.
The Vikings are playing in the NCAA west regional at Stanford Golf Course this week.
"It's a special thing to experience," Takaishi says. "I want my players to have a good time and gain experience to improve for future years."