As the Palm Desert High School girls golf team works on a 17th consecutive undefeated season in the Desert Valley League — a mark that seems assured of being reached in a down year for many other schools in the league — it is the Aztecs’ postseason fortunes that may define this year’s squad.
“I think we have a better chance this year than we did last year,” senior Jiyoon Jang said. “Last year was our rebuilding year, so I think the fact that we even got to CIF was an accomplishment in itself. But this year, the girls are so much more experienced.”
Palm Desert may be the only girls golf team in the desert this year to shoot enough qualifying scores to advance to CIF-Southern Section postseason play. But players and head coach Kurt Ney hope the team regionals is just the start for the Aztecs in 2015.
“We have a little bit more depth this year. We are looking for good things,” Ney said. “If we can get off to a good start, I think their confidence level will go up. I think we can go a little bit further than everyone expects us to.”
Just past the midway point of the season, the Aztecs have rolled through a DVL that is not as strong as it has been in recent years. In fact, one DVL school, Palm Springs, abandoned its season because it couldn’t field a team with a minimum of five players.
Instead, the Aztecs have been measuring themselves against stronger competition in mid-season tournaments and invitationals, and Ney says Palm Desert is doing well.
“The San Clemente (tournament) is usually a good indicator for us. However this year, with the dates that it fell, there were a couple of teams that we hoped to see there that weren’t. Torrey Pines being one of them,” Ney said. “I think they had a couple of players who were up in the First Tee (Champions Tour) event at Pebble Beach. Then there were a couple of other players; they just didn’t bring their A squad. But it was a good test for us. We didn’t play our best golf there, but it worked out OK. We got a second out of it.”
Jang, a past US. Women Amateur and U.S. Junior Girls match-play participant headed to the University of California next year, was a medalist in the San Clemente event with a 5-under 68. In a second-place finish in the Long Beach Wilson Invitational a few days later, Jang shot a 3-under 71 while senior Kiki Liu shot 72.
Like her teammate Liu, Jang doesn’t play every tournament for the Aztecs, splitting time with American Junior Golf Association and Toyota Cup events as well as high school golf.
“I’ve been working really hard over the summer to, I guess, perfect the mistakes I made last year,” Jang said. “The mistakes I made in like the tournaments this summer, I’ve been trying to just perfect everything and solidify my game for the rest of the season.”
“It is still inconsistent, but I am still working on it,” said Liu, last year’s DVL individual champion over Jang and also a player being courted by college teams. “But I’m kind of busy with classes. I’m trying to practice more and stuff, but it’s good.”
Helping talented seniors like Jang and Liu — and leading the team while the two seniors take a tournament off — is a young group of players who have stepped up from their 2014 performances.
“I want to say I’m so proud. It’s crazy how much they have improved from last year,” Jang said. “So I think we will have a chance to even make it to state this year.”
Among those underclassmen contributing are sophomore Madison Walker, Lily Rodriguez and Madison Rincon. Walker has a scoring average under 38 for nine-hole tournaments this year.
“I think we are doing everything good right now. I have a lot of confidence in my team,” Walker said. “I think we can make it very far with who we have right now.”
The Aztecs will begin play in the team regionals Nov. 2 at Jurupa Hills Golf Course in Jurupa Valley.
“Last year ,we were just trying to get to CIF with such a young team,” Ney said. “This year, our expectations are to get a little further along.”