WALLA WALLA — Fifty-three shots separated first-place George Fox University and second-place Whitman College at last month’s Northwest Conference Fall Classic golf tournament at the Tri-Mountain Golf Course in Ridgefield, Wash.
That was the bad news.
Only one point separates the Bruins and the Missionaries in the conference standings as they wait out the winter and plan for the spring portion of their seasons.
And that’s the good news.
The conference championship is based on four tournaments over the fall and spring seasons: The Fall Classic, the Spring Classic and the Northwest Conference Championships. Teams receive one point each for every team they finish ahead of during the Fall and Spring Classics, and two points for each team during the NWC Championships.
So there’s plenty of time and space for the Missionaries to overtake the Bruins and earn a second straight conference crown and the automatic berth in the NCAA Division III National Championships that goes with it. And Whitman coach Skip Molitor is confident his players are up to the challenge.
Part of that confidence stems from the fact that the Whits didn’t come close to playing up to their potential at Tri-Mountain.
“Typically,” Molitor said, “we play our best golf at the end of the fall and at the end of the spring. But our 681 at the Fall Classic was our high two-day total of the entire fall season. It didn’t end the way we had hoped.
“But I am hoping that’s the silver lining, that it causes us to go into the spring doing everything we can to finish as strong as we are capable of finishing. That said, we are in second place and our positioning is very solid.”
George Fox, led by senior player of the year candidate Kelsey Morrison, is a force to be reckoned with, Molitor knows. But he also knows that his team is capable of beating the Bruins.
“They distanced themselves from us in the Fall Classic in terms of scores,” he said of the Bruins. “But we feel like we are certainly in the same category with them.
“At one point last year, we beat them in three consecutive rounds. We look forward to that kind of streak this spring, and maybe extending it a little bit.”
The Missionaries will certainly be a deeper team in the spring than they were at the close of the fall season when Molitor’s roster had dwindled to five players.
Freshman Alyssa Main, who left the team midway in the fall season to join Whitman’s women’s basketball team, will be back on the links come spring. And junior Elaine Whaley, who was a first-team all-conference player as a sophomore, sat out the fall season with a wrist injury.
“We will be seven deep this spring,” Molitor said. “And it’s going to be real competitive.
“Elaine will certainly battle for one of those top five spots,” he said of Whaley. “And Alyssa did some solid things as a freshman and has a bright future,” he added of Main.
Another positive note is that the coach expects better scores out of juniors Katie Zajicek and Catelyn Webber, who walked on the course this fall after spending the summer studying in China where they never lifted a club.
“They were just getting back to the game,” Molitor said.
The Whitman women will be on their own until mid-February.
They will have access to local golf courses while the weather holds, and they have a hitting area in the school’s multi-purpose gym as well.
The Baker Ferguson Fitness Center is also available as a workout area.
The women will also be looking forward to March 23-24 when they co-host a tournament with Hawaii Pacific on the island of Oahu.
“This is going to be our first trip to Hawaii,” Molitor said. “It should be a pretty good spring break trip and we are all very excited about it.”
Molitor also noted that this is the first year in which the program consists of seniors who came to Whitman with the intention of playing golf and have been on the team for four years.
“It’s a fabulous way to culminate their four years,” he said.