RICHLAND - A young Whitman College women's golf team wasn't able to catch nationally-ranked George Fox in Saturday's closing round of the Northwest Conference championship tournament, but the Missionaries capped the best season in school history by holding tight to second place in the tournament as well as the season-long standings.
George Fox, which carded a 316 team score for its top four golfers on Saturday, won the 36-hole tournament at Kennewick's Columbia Point with a 619 total.
Whitman, in second place after Friday's opening round, shot 326 on Saturday to retain its grip on the runner-up spot, holding off third-place
Linfield by five strokes. Whitworth slipped back in the seven-school field and placed fourth, 22 shots behind the Missionaries.
Taking second place in the season-long standings represents the best finish in the history of the Whitman women's golf program.
"It was an outstanding way to finish the season," Whitman coach Skip Molitor said. "This was clearly our most consistent back-to-back rounds of the year.
"With the conference title and a national championship berth going to this tournament's winner, the stakes were high and we responded very well. We beat Linfield and Whitworth both days.
"Linfield played its best golf of the season, and we still held them off for second place in what was an extremely close competition."
Early in Saturday's round, Whitman also made a brief run at George Fox, which held at 24-shot lead after Friday's opening round. "We made an impressive run on the front side today, and caught the leader's attention," Molitor said.
The Missionaries were unable to catch the Bruins, but Molitor was still "very pleased to have such a young team play its best at the most important tournament of the year. It's a sign of good things to come."
Katie Zajicek, one of four first-year players on the team, led the Whitman charge on Saturday, shooting 79 as one of only three players to break 80.
Zajicek, who earned All-NWC honors by winning the Spring Classic earlier this month, finished this weekend's tournament at 161, good enough for sixth place.
Apart from a triple bogey on Friday on one of the course's most difficult holes, Zajicek maintained her trademark consistency, Molitor said.
"Katie's consistency is off the charts, and she's going to help anchor our team for the next three years," he said. "Earning all-conference honors as a first-year player in a league of this caliber is amazing."
Sophomore Caitlin Holland shot 81 on Saturday to finish in a two-way tie for 10th-place at 164. Elaine Whaley, another of the first-year Missionaries, contributed to the team score on Saturday with an 82 that gave her a 168 tournament score.
Catelyn Webber, a third first-year player, finished with a 166 tourney total after carding an 84 on Saturday.
Sophomore Tate Head, who shot 80 on Friday, started her Saturday round with two birdies and two pars before faltering later in the day. She finished at 168 for the tourney, tied with Whaley.
Erika Zinzer, a fourth first-year Missionary, also stumbed a bit on Saturday, following an 87 on Friday with a closing round 91 for a 178 total.
"Our two sophomores, Holland and Head, showed tremendous resiliency this spring," Molitor said.
"Caitlin had a tremendous spring, continually improving and finishing as our No. 2 player. I could also see that Tate was ready to get back to the top form she showed last year when she was our No. 1 player. She had our low score on Friday and got off to a great start on Saturday. It's great to see her relaxed and confident on the course again, and having fun."
Webber and Whaley, two of his first-year players, also turned in strong efforts, Molitor said.
"Catelyn Webber had an incredible ball-striking tournament, consistently driving the ball long and straight and hitting a lot of greens. The putter was not overly kind to her this weekend, but that's something she can address and improve as she gets ready for next season."
Molitor was thrilled to see Whaley finish with an 82 in Saturday's round. "No one has outworked Elaine this year, and her effort is going to pay dividends in the future," he said.
Molitor also said it was a "treat to get Erika Zinzer back on the course. She had a solid fall season but lost playing time this spring to academic interests. She had a remarkable tournament under the circumstances."