Valencia Vikings boys golf finished a comeback for the ages on Monday at The Oaks Club at Valencia.
The Vikings were 13 strokes out from the top of the Foothill League with three matches ago. However, Valencia rallied and stormed through the final three league matches, winning the crown by 12 strokes.
Reigning Foothill League MVP Taylor Cotti has not been himself in league play this year but surged at the Oaks Club Monday, finishing with 71 strokes (-1). The junior finishes the year as the only golfer to finish under par in a league match.
Cotti started off the day with a double bogie but didn’t let the first hole set the tone for the day. He birdied on five holes en route to clinching the sixth individual playoff spot.
“Taylor is and always has been our No. 1,” Valencia coach Robert Waters wrote in an email. “He’s been playing great in the non-conference matches all season, but for whatever reason, has struggled during league play. It was great to see him get hot with his putter and put up a phenomenal number. He clutched up big time and now gets another shot at making a deep run in CIF.”
Hart’s Kai Miyata dethroned Cotti and became the 2023 league MVP on Monday, after his 76-stroke day. Miyata never medaled this year but was consistently just over par all season. The sophomore was trailed by teammate junior Dylan Burcham (+3) and Nathan Ekins (+8). The three Indian golfers all finish the year in the top five for league golfers, and will all continue their seasons in the individual playoffs.
Burcham finished just three strokes behind Miyata for the league MVP title, while Ekins was back by just 10 strokes.
Miyata missed a bulk of his freshman season due to a nagging back injury. The time off only fueled his fire to return to the sport.
“It feels great to have a full year,” Miyata said in a phone interview. “I wanted to win MVP more than anyone out there this year, especially after not being able to contend last year due to my back injury. I was able to battle back with not the best start to the season and powering through on every round made it even feel better. Going into the last match, Luke and Dylan gave me a tough battle throughout the whole round and I think that’s what really capped off the season with a bang for me.”
Burcham tied for league runner-up with Valencia’s Luke Rimkunas but becomes the silver golfer by a tiebreaker. Rimkunas had a solid junior season last year but came into his own in his senior season. Rimkumas and Burcham finished off the year with a pair of league medal-winning performances.
“It feels good to see the hard work pay off,” Rimkunas said in a phone interview. “I’ve just stayed steady the last few years. But this year I saw the scores slowly drop.”
Rimkunas finished Monday’s match with 77 strokes (+5), his best league finish at the Oaks this season.
The senior has come a long way since entering Waters’ program at Valencia. Rimkunas has developed into a college-level golfer and won’t have to trade in his purple and gold as he gears up to play at Cal Lutheran collegiately.
“Luke is such a bright spot for our program,” Waters said. “He went from an 18-index handicap down to a scratch in less than four years. His competitive nature and mature ability to focus under pressure makes him a special player. The most exciting thing for me as a coach is the fact that Luke has only begun to reach his full potential. It’s going to be fun watching how he does at Cal Lutheran.”
Ethan Cho and Jay Wrage both trailed with 80-stroke days for Valencia.
“I think what kind of sets us apart is how deep we are,” Rimkunas said. “We have six guys that can shoot in the 70s. That gives us a flexibility where one of us can shoot poorly and the rest of the five can pick it up.”
West Ranch will send William Kei into the postseason, as the fourth-place golfer in league this season. Kei did not compete on Monday but his impressive season allowed him to continue on. The Wildcats were led by Tyler Sonnenberg with 79 strokes.
West Ranch fell just short of a league championship but should still feel good heading into team playoffs, as the only team with three different league medalists this season.
Saugus was led by Ethan Phillips with 80 strokes, while Jacob Peters led Castaic with 82.
As competitive as the season was, every team aimed to simply have fun on the course with their friends.
“As a senior, I’m just thankful for making all these countless lifelong friendships with these guys, being a part of these teams and making history these past few years,” Rimkunas said.
The top golfers will now gear up for the CIF Individual Regionals next Wednesday before competing in Team Divisional Championships the following week.
“Our team is very special and we have talent, that’s no doubt,” Miyata said. “We just get a little flustered up in our heads and let it get to us sometimes. When we put all our games to the best of our abilities, we stand out from everyone and no doubt are the best team in the valley. We all feel very confident going into CIF. We continue to have an amazing coach supporting us mentally … Hopefully we can bring a spark to the postseason and win a CIF championship.”
The top individual players hit the course at Los Robles Greens on Wednesday, May 10, at 8 a.m.
“It’s exciting. Our goal before the season was to not only win league but also go far in the playoffs because we saw our potential to go deep in the postseason,” Rimkunas said. “We’re in the right headspace and have all the positive emotions. We have as much confidence as any team and we’re really united right now, so we can push through the playoffs.”