Spokane favored to win NWAACC golf tourney

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WALLA WALLA — Spokane is favored to win its second consecutive men’s title here beginning this morning when the NWAACC Championships golf tournament tees off at Veterans Memorial Golf Course.

But Walla Walla coach Mike Rostollan, who has taken the Warriors to five championships in his previous 13 years as head coach, isn’t about to concede the title to the reigning champs.

“There’s no question that Spokane has the most depth,” Rostollan said in assessing this year’s nine-school men’s field. “Their No. 6 man might just as easily shoot their best score as No. 1, and it is always great to have that kind of depth.

“But if Spokane stumbles a bit, there are as many as seven teams who can make it happen on a magical weekend. Us included.”

Spokane won the regular-season championship with 32 team points, followed by Green River (26) and Southwest Oregon (19). Walla Walla, Bellevue and Skagit Valley tied for fourth place with 16 points each.

But if Rostollan’s looking for a silver lining, he need look no further than last season when his squad was the regular-season champion but settled for third place in the NWAACC Championships.

And then there’s the home-course advantage to consider. Following first-round play at Memorial, the tournament shifts to the Walla Walla Country Club for Monday’s concluding round.

“Our sophomores have played a lot of golf at Vets and at the country club,” Rostollan noted. “Time and experience on the two golf courses should give us a real home-field advantage.

“We have some freshmen who could light it up, but they haven’t proved it yet. They’ve had plenty of time to show me something, and so far they haven’t turned my crank. So I am going with my second-year guys.”

Mike Ciez and Cole Sajonia, who were both all-conference players as freshman, will fill the top two spots, respectively, Rostollan said. Brennon Lancaster, Sage Ceniga and Andrew Grove are the other sophomores.

Grant Geelan, a freshman out of McMinnville, Ore., is the only first-year player in the Warriors lineup.

“We have the talent,” Rostollan said. “I’ve been regarding this team highly for a long time now. I’ve been patient because there is a lot of potential. They know what they can do, they just haven’t been able to piece it together.”

The problem, Rostollan said, has been inconsistency.

“You need four solid scores to be competitive,” the coach said. “Three out of four isn’t going to get it done in this league, and that’s been the story of our season.”

There will be between 50 and 55 men entered in the 36-hole event, and Green River’s Brock Johnson, who has won two regular-season tournaments, is the favorite to claim medalist honors.

“Brock shot a 63 earlier this year at Indian Canyon in Spokane, and just last weekend he won a playoff at Bandon Dunes,” Rostollan said of Johnson. “If somebody gets right around 139 for two rounds that should be good enough, but if Brock gets it going he could go lower.

“But five under par for two days would be a good score, and anyone around par is going to be in the top five or six. And a couple over par could be in the top 10.

“I’m hoping to have those guys on my team.”

Meanwhile, eight women’s teams and approximately 30 women will share the two courses with the men. Defending champion Bellevue enters as the favorite after posting 33 regular-season points, followed by Walla Walla and Green River with 23 points each.

Rostollan’s women’s team has never claimed an NWAACC title, although the Warriors finished second three consecutive years beginning in 2002. And Warrior Dona Dunovant was a two-time individual champion.

Sophomore Kelsey Sage will play No. 1 for the Warriors, freshman Kelsy Bigness has been penciled in No. 2 and freshman Stephanie Bullock No. 3. Sophomore Autumn Snyder and freshman Shay Jones round out the Walla Walla lineup.

“If we play way above average, we could get a podium finish,” Rostollan said. “I think a runner-up finish for this team would be terrific.

“But this is a great group of girls, some of my favorites in that they get along together. There’s no drama.”

Following today’s round, which begins at 10 a.m., there will be an awards banquet at the Walla Walla Country Club beginning at 8 p.m. Monday’s second round at the country club commences at 7:30 a.m.

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