March 5, 2008
By Darren Shimp
More often than not, student-athletes choose their college based on the program's recent success, its proximity to home and the impression the coaching staff leaves on its recruits. For Eastern Washington University women's golfer Marli Mikulecky, all these reasons apply -- and one more:
The impact of Hurricane Katrina.
Mikulecky (pronounced "MICK-oo-leck-ee") was a member of the Mississippi State women's golf team in 2005 when the massive hurricane struck. She was living in Starkville, Miss., when its destruction, which claimed over 1,800 lives and $81 billion in damage, was at its peak.
"That was a big reason (for leaving MSU)," said Mikulecky. "We had a lot of rain and wind and it was a category 3 when it went over my apartment."
The move to Cheney made sense for Mikulecky, who hails from Osoyoos (pronounced "o-SOY-use"), British Columbia, on the border of Washington and Canada. Her family was a mere three-and-a-half hour drive away and she would have the companionship of fellow British Columbian Chelsey Lollar, whom Mikulecky has known since junior golf. Lollar also helped introduce her to Eagle head golf coach Marc Hughes.
Hughes is grateful for Mikulecky's return to the region, as this year's team has been picked by the coaches of the Big Sky Conference to finish first in the league championships in April. The Eagles open their spring portion of the 2007-08 season March 10-12 at the UNLV Spring Invitational in Boulder City, Nev., and are 14-0 against Big Sky foes at five invitational tournaments thus far.
"The big wave that hit down on the gulf coast kind of scared her a little, so she was looking to be closer to home," recalled Hughes. "I had a player that had just left my program who transferred to Washington State, so the stars aligned so she could come in."
The proximity to Mikulecky's hometown has made it possible for her parents to see her play on more than one occasion, including last fall's MDA Invitational. The tournament was played at Hangman Valley Golf Course in Spokane where the junior shot her best round of the season (73).
"More importantly than them coming to the tournaments, she can bust out in her car and go see them on a weekend," said Hughes. "For kids that's important; it's nice to go home on occasion. I think that has a positive emotional effect on kids who don't factor that in when they're coming out of high school."
One unique aspect to Mikulecky's lifestyle is that she is vegetarian, and lives on a cuisine of fruits, vegetables, lentils and soy. Although she would prefer to stay away from tofu, often a staple of vegetarian nourishment, she has found a unique use for the soy by-product -- fruit flavored tofu for smoothies.
"If you put a ton of fruit in there, you can't taste it," said Mikulecky.
Aside from her commitment to family and food, Hughes says Mikulecky is extremely dedicated to her golf skills. A recent venture to Phoenix, Ariz. -- to get away from the still-frozen tundra of Eastern Washington -- was quite the testament to her work ethic.
"She did that all on her own -- 100 percent," said Hughes. "She paid for the ticket down and back and she paid for the golf. She did it just to get a little bit of an edge. That little bit will pay off now or five years down the road. That's someone who loves the game.
"She's got the commitment level of a tour player. You see it at the Dukes and the Arizona States -- you usually don't see it at Eastern Washington."
How did she fare in her trek to the desert?
The intelligence she brings to the golf course has translated just as well in the classroom. Mikulecky is on par to graduate magna cum laude -- which requires a grade point average between 3.62 - 3.76 -- in business administration next quarter. She will begin pursuing a master's in business administration this spring as well, as the department has allowed her to start her graduate program while taking the last remaining course for her bachelor's degree.
She was honored as a member of the National Golf Association All-American Scholar Team for NCAA Division I in the summer of 2007. For that same year, she was named to the Big Sky All-Academic Team.
However, she will be taking a lighter class load than normal next term. Mikulecky and her team's focus shifts to the links, where they will try to continue their dominance this season in Big Sky play.
However, the accomplishments to this point only go so far in Mikulecky's book. The unfinished business of the conference championships takes place April 21-23 at Foothills Golf Club in Phoenix.
"We still have to play the tournament in order to win," said Mikulecky.