Eagle Golf Opens Spring Season at Red Rocks Invitational

Eastern to compete against six other Big Sky schools in first outing of 2011

The Eastern Washington University women's golf team will officially kick off its spring season this weekend with the Red Rocks Invitational Feb. 26-27. The field for the event includes 20 teams, seven of which hail from the Big Sky Conference.

Along with Eastern, Northern Colorado, Idaho State, Montana, Montana State, Weber State and host-school Northern Arizona will all be on hand.

The tournament will be played at the Oakcreek Country Club in Sedona, Arizona. Oakcreek is a par 72, 18-hole championship course of 6,084 yards. Due to an inclement weather forecast, there is a possibility the event may be moved up one day to be played Friday and Saturday (Feb. 25-26).

SEASON OUTLOOK

Eastern is looking to pick up right where it left off in the fall.

The Eagles played in four tournaments during the 2010 fall season, and as is the usual goal preached by coaches and players alike, the team improved with each outing. EWU turned in one of its best performances in nearly two years in the final event of the fall season. Behind two top-ten individual finishes, EWU claimed third place at the Shocker Invitational in Newton, Kan. Eastern had a stellar second round, in which all four Eagle scorers shot in the 70s. The team finished with a total score of 616 (313-303). Eastern's second-round score of 303 marked the lowest round recorded by the Eagles since the 2008 season.

"We had a good fall season, and I think the experiences and success we had gave us confidence in knowing we can truly compete at every tournament," said EWU head coach Brenda Howe, who is in her second year at the helm of the program. "We are finally seeing all our hard work pay off with lower scores."

The Eagles will have a few obstacles to overcome in the early season though, as the team has only been on the greens a handful of times during the winter.

"The weather has definitely hampered our training a little bit," said Howe. "This initial tournament in Arizona will be the first time since October that we won't be swinging with multiple layers on."

Although snowfall has limited  Eastern's time on the course, the team has found ways to practice other areas of their game, which it hopes will pay off in its five events this spring, including the Big Sky Championship April 18-20.

"We have done a lot of drills on chipping, putting, and of course, more chipping," expressed Howe. "The hours we spend on these exercises may seem tedious, but since I took over the program a year and half ago, I have seen huge improvements in the short game."

Howe will enjoy a talented roster of nine during the 2011 spring season – one more than was in the lineup during the fall. Sophomore-transfer Jackie Brown joined the team in January after spending one year at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss. Brown is no stranger to the Evergreen State though, having grown up in Spanaway, Wash. Brown graduated from Bethel High School in 2009 after a successful preparatory golf career that included a third-place finish at the WIAA 4A state championship.

While at JSU, Brown competed in several high-level tournaments, including the 2010 NCAA Division I Championships. The Tigers earned an automatic bid to the event after winning the Southwestern Athletic Conference title. Brown was an All-SWAC first-team selection in 2010, and was also named to the league's all-academic team.

"We are very excited with the addition of Jackie," said Howe. "She is an athlete in every sense of the word. She is a hard worker, and is aware of her strengths and her weaknesses. I look forward to watching her develop her game into one that I feel will make her an All-Conference selection."

Another golfer who is familiar with conference recognition is senior Kellie Holmstedt, an All-Big Sky second team selection in 2008 and a three-time Big Sky All-Academic honoree. Holmstedt, a native of North Bend, Ore., has played in 72 rounds throughout her collegiate career.

"Kellie's experience is a tremendous asset to her individual game and our team as a whole," said Howe. "Her maturity on the golf course allows her to see the big picture and rarely will you see her dwelling on bad shots."

Holmstedt led the team in all four tournaments during the fall, which culminated with Big Sky Player of the Week honors for her performance at the Shocker Invite. She finished just five strokes back from the winner, who fired a total score of 142. Holmstedt carded a two-round total of 147 (75-72) to finish fourth overall. Her second-round score of 72 was the best recorded since her freshman season. Overall in her career, Holmstedt has earned three top-five finishes. She played in 11 rounds total during the fall, averaging a team-leading 77.5 strokes per round.

In addition to Holmstedt, Howe will look to sophomore Jayme Carbon to help lead the team in 2011. Carbon emerged as one of the top golfers on the sqaud during the fall season. She was the only other player besides Holmstedt to have a stroke average of less than 80. Carbon played in all 11 rounds for a 79.2 stroke average.

"Jayme has improved tremendously in the last few months," commended Howe. "Her willingness to try new things around the green has helped lower her scoring average almost six strokes from last season. She rarely makes anything over a bogey."

The Eagles will begin the 2011 campaign with four other returners, including Morgan Lee, Neddy Martinez, Kylie Ray and Dana Stapleton. Howe also added junior-transfer Annie Viola and freshman Sara Callagy to the roster prior to the start of the fall season.

Callagy gained experience playing in two tournaments during the fall. She averaged an 80.2 stroke average over five rounds, and helped Eastern to that impressive finish at the Shocker Invite after finishing tied for 22nd with a two-round total of 160 (808-80).

EAGLES TABBED EIGHTH IN BIG SKY PRESEASON POLL

The Eagles earned 18 points in the 2011 preseason poll, good for eighth place in the rankings. Eastern finished eighth last season at the Big Sky Championship. Northern Arizona was the favorite in the poll, garnering six first-place votes and 62 points overall. Portland State, the reigning Big Sky champs, came in second with three first-place votes and 58 total points. Montana, Sacramento State and Montana State rounded out the top five.

"I try not to worry too much about preseason polls, "said Howe. "We know where we can realistically finish at the BSC Championships. We know we can, and have, beat a few of the teams picked ahead of us."

During the fall, Eastern defeated Northern Colorado and Weber State, who were picked sixth and seventh in the poll, respectively. EWU finished 10 strokes ahead of UNC at the Shocker Invitational (Oct. 18-19), while the Eagles bested Weber State by 16 strokes at the Circling Raven Collegiate Invitational (Sept. 12-14).

This year, the BSC championship will return to the Ocotillo Golf Resort in Chandler, Ariz. This is the third year Ocotillo has hosted the event. The 54-hole championship begins April 18 and concludes April 20. Eastern will get a chance to preview the course before the championships, as they are scheduled to play in the Cowgirl Invitational on April 4-5.

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