MISSOULA — The Montana women’s golf team will compete at the Big Sky Conference championship later this week in Boulder City, Nevada.
The tournament, which opens with a practice round on Thursday, will be played Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Boulder Creek Golf Club, with 18 holes each day. The first golfers will go off at 8 a.m. (Mountain Ttime) each morning.
Idaho is the defending champion and the favorite to repeat. The Vandals shot rounds of 295, 286 and 287 last spring to win the title at Boulder Creek, holding off Sacramento State by a stroke after the Hornets closed with a final-day 283.
Idaho, with a Golfstat ranking of 67, is the only Big Sky Conference team in the nation’s top 100. Sacramento State (102), Portland State (123), Southern Utah (135) and Northern Colorado (144) round out the top five.
Montana ranks 10th among Big Sky schools at 196.
“I don’t really have a place in mind going into conference,” said second-year coach Matt Higgins. “I just want to see the girls put in the effort and play to their potential. That would make for a successful weekend.”
The Grizzlies tied for eighth at last year’s championship, shooting rounds of 307, 298 and 297, which highlights the improvements made across the Big Sky. The 902 Montana shot last year was two shots better than the 904 the Grizzlies carded in 2006 to win the Big Sky title.
To put it another way: The 902 was the best score at the Big Sky championship in program history. The eighth-place finish matched the lowest in program history.
“Idaho and Sacramento State have been near the top all year long. They’re strong and really good, but from top to bottom it’s a strong conference,” said Higgins.
“Teams are going to have to go low to be in contention this weekend. Teams will need to shoot 290 every day to have a chance.”
Montana has averaged a team score of 312.9 over 12 rounds at four tournaments this spring.
In mid-March, the Grizzlies shot a 298 in the second round at the Spring Break Invitational at the Trophy Club Country Club in Dallas, Texas, on their way to a fifth-place finish, their best round since last year’s Big Sky championship.
At its most recent tournament, the Wyoming Cowgirl Classic at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club in Maricopa, Ariz., Montana shot rounds of 306, 307 and 308.
“I don’t think we’ve had a tournament this spring when every girl has played to her potential,” said Higgins. “If we can get four scores all three days, we are going to do well.
“The second day in Dallas was the closest we’ve had to it, which showed the potential is there.”
Higgins will bring a lineup of junior Kari Opatz, junior Butte High graduate Hailey Hoagland, sophomore Baylee Barckley, senior Alexa Schendelman and freshman Teigan Avery.
Barckley, who shot rounds of 72, 73 and 72 last year on the same course to tie for fifth, Hoagland and Schendelman all represented Montana at the championship last April.
“This is the same group I took to Dallas (in March), and that was one of the better tournaments we’ve had,” said Higgins. “It’s probably my most consistent and confident group, so I think they’ll do well.
“And three of the five have experience on the course, so I think that will help.”
For the second straight year the championship will be held at the Boulder Creek Golf Club. The course will be a par 72 and set up to play 6,395 yards, nearly 200 yards longer than any other course Montana has played this year.
“We tend to play courses like that pretty well. It’s a bit longer, but it plays fast. The ball gets a lot of roll in the fairway,” said Higgins.
“If the wind isn’t blowing, the course is very playable. It’s not easy, because you still have to hit the shots, but it’s very playable. What can make the course difficult is if you get the wind.”
Golfstat.com will have live results of the tournament.
— Montana Sports Information