Birdie upon birdie upon birdie — Cal exploded onto the scene in Hawaii on Halloween Monday with its best team round since 2008. Although this kind of result wasn’t sustained over the course of the tournament, the Bears put their promising talent on full display.
On the beautiful Big Island of Hawaii at the Nanea Golf Club, Cal took on the rest of the Pac-12, plus host University of Hawaii, in the annual Pac-12 Preview. For the first time this year, Cal rolled out a different squad: Graduate transfer Annika Borrelli was missing from the team, and Cal Poly sophomore transfer Kaylyn Noh was in. As it turns out, the adjustment injected life into the Bears.
Teeing off early Monday morning, the blue and gold wasted no time making their presence felt. They played a round that the program hadn’t seen in 14 years: a 9-under team round. Led by Cristina Ochoa’s 6-under individual round, which tied an individual program record, three out of the five golfers went under par on the par-73 course.
The immaculate start landed the Bears in fourth place going into Tuesday, putting them ahead of No. 6 Oregon, among other ranked teams. Coach Nancy McDaniel was proud of her team for getting off to a strong start.
“I feel like we were playing relaxed golf; they were hitting their lines off the tee and getting the ball rolling,” McDaniel said.
The promising start wasn’t sustainable for the Bears, however, as a +12 and +6 on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, landed them in seventh place to finish the tournament, just one stroke behind No. 19 USC. Although this was a bit of a disappointment for Cal considering its first round, the skill and poise the Bears showed on a big stage were promising nonetheless.
Junior Ochoa tied a program record with her 6-under in the first round and managed to finish in a tie for 17th with a +2 overall. The top finisher for Cal ended up being rising star Jieming Yang, who had previously strung together strong play at Blessings Collegiate and Stanford Intercollegiate.
Yang also had a stellar start to this tournament, setting a personal record of -3 on Monday, and staying relatively steady the rest of the way to end at even par and in a tie for 11th. The resurgence of Ochoa and the continued improvement of Yang should serve as encouraging signs of good things to come for Cal fans.
The third golfer that went under par in the first round was the transfer from Cal Poly, sophomore Noh. Making her Cal debut this week, she impressed everyone, including coach McDaniel.
“To open the round and open her collegiate career at Cal at 1-under on this course, after only seeing it once, was notable, for sure,” McDaniel said.
Noh tapered off in the following rounds, but showed off the experience she gained at Cal Poly. In her freshman year, Noh earned the Big West Player of the Year accolade, and last week she proved that she can make a true impact for this Cal team.
Junior Mika Jin was consistent over the course of the week, and finished at +4 overall, landing her a 21st-place finish. Rounding out the squad, freshman Adora Liu once again played solidly, even putting up a one-under final round. Liu continues to show her growth over the past few tournaments and is a promising sign for the future of Cal.
With the Pac-12 Preview being the final tournament of the fall season for the Bears, they will now enter an extended break for the winter. While they’ll still practice and work out, Coach McDaniel says this time is also a good opportunity for the players to catch their breath.
“Having some down time to be a college student is always good for balance,” McDaniel said.
With a solid performance in Hawaii under their belt, the Bears will look to recuperate and prepare to attack right out of the gate come springtime.