Freshman Jiyoon Jang has heard her Palm Desert High School teammates talk all year about getting back to the girls’ golf state championship tournament.
“I had no idea. I knew it was a big deal, but I didn’t know it was this big of a deal,” Jang said after the Aztecs narrowly earned a berth into their third consecutive CIF state championship Thursday. “I didn’t know it would be this close.”
Palm Desert finished third in the 10-team CIF-WSCGA Foundation tournament at the Golf Club of Rancho California to earn the last of the three berths from the Southern California regional event into the state tournament.
Palm Desert’s 26-over 386 score was five shots better than the score the team shot in winning the CIF-WSCGA event last year. But this year that score was 17 shots behind Torrey Pines High School and one shot behind Diamond Bar. Mater Dei of Santa Ana was fourth at 388, while home team Vista Murrieta shot 391.
“Our goal all year was to get to state again,” Palm Desert head coach Jack Stewart said. “This will be the third year in a row we’ve been there, and it is very difficult in this region. The scores get better all the time. I think the statistic is that there are six of the top 30 girls in the nation playing here today. So just to finish in the top three is pretty amazing.”
The Aztecs’ return to the finals comes with a squad that lost three players to Division I college programs from last year’s team and is without a senior among the six golfers on the team Thursday. The Aztecs had finished third in the state event each of the last two years.
“I think we have come together as a team,” said junior Mackenzie Raim, the only current Aztecs golfer who played in each of the last two state tournaments. “We keep getting better every week. I think after skimming by in the first round we realized that it’s time to be Palm Desert. Now we are playing like it.”
Raim led the Aztecs Thursday with an even-par 72 on an overcast and blustery day that saw rain showers move through the course several times. Raim had two birdies and one double bogey.
“I hit a poor drive into a bunker and I was right against the lip, so I played smart and punched out,” Raim said. “But my third shot, the green actually checked up for the first time all day. I wasn’t very happy with the shot, so that led into my putt and I three-putted for a double.”
Jang managed a 76 on Thursday while playing with two of the best girls in the country, Ester Lee of Los Alamitos and Amy Lee of Brea-Olinda, ranked fifth and 13th in the country respectively.
“They didn’t really intimidate me. I just thought that I could learn from them because they are higher ranked than me,” Jang said.
Caroline Ordian shot 77 for the Aztecs, followed by 80 by Hailey Ney and 81 by Jasmine Hassan. Jaclyn Molnar’s 99 was not counted in the six-play, five-count format.
“I am real proud of all the girls,” Stewart said. “Mackenzie played great today with a 72. I’m particularly proud of Caroline and Hailey coming through the way they did. Jiyoon, I could talk about each one of them, They all played great, they all came through.”
In the individual competition, Lilia Vu of Fountain Valley shot 68 for the title, one shot better than Sandy Choi of Torrey Pines. Three other golfers shot 70 and another three shot 71.
The Aztecs now move into the state tournament Tuesday at Red Hill Country Club in Rancho Cucamonga against Torrey Pines, Diamond Bar and three teams from Northern California.
“We’ve got two freshmen who have never seen the course, and there won’t be a practice round which is unfortunate,” Stewart said. “We’ll be fine.”