Valencia Vikings girls’ golf has at last returned to the top of the Foothill League. West Ranch was in the midst of a dynasty and just a few strokes away from its fifth straight league title, but the Vikings intervened at Sand Canyon Country Club.
Valencia was a little shaky in its fifth league match at Sand Canyon on Wednesday, giving West Ranch a window. Wildcats’ sophomore Kathryn Mong is the Foothill League’s 2023 MVP and finished the season with a high-out score 176. Mong had been consistent all year and finished Wednesday’s contest with 33 strokes (-2).
However, with their backs against the wall, the Vikings stormed through the final round of league play on Thursday and officially ended the championship dry spell.
On Mong’s tail was Valencia freshman Kara An, who caught fire to finish the regular season and ended the year just one stroke behind Mong. An medaled in Thursday’s finale, shooting under par for the first time in a league match this season.
“I just trusted my game and really committed to every shot,” An said. “I was confident and not worrying about too many things and ultimately just having fun out there.”
Valencia senior Jillian Leh finished third overall in league after shooting one over in her Foothill League finale. Leh, the 2022 Foothill League MVP, just wanted her to end Valencia career on a strong note and came through for the Vikings yet again.
“I just stuck to my strategies and then took it out to the course with no worries,” Leh said. “I thought this is my last league match, I might as well finish strong. And I think I did.”
Sand Canyon was hammered with wind per usual this week, making the final match an uncertain round to prepare for.
“Knowing that we’re gonna have windy conditions today, truth be told we were kind of anticipating that this was more likely going to be the drop score and that this would probably be the highest score of the year just because of the conditions,” said Valencia coach Robert Waters. “The golf course itself is probably harder than all the other courses that we played, too. Turns out, though, this is a keeper score, 202 is a phenomenal score out here with the wind the way it was blowing. I’ve been talking to the girls about keeping it in play today. Keep the ball in play. Keep it in the fairway, try just getting somewhere up by the green, trust your up and down skills and they were able to do so impressively.”
Valencia shaved 13 strokes off its Wednesday final score, finishing with a 202 team score to secure the league title.
The Vikings also saw clutch play from Lauren Silva (+6) and captain Been Yoo (+5). The champs were rounded out by freshman Kiara Jang (+11) and sophomore Avery Park (+12).
For West Ranch, Kate Yi led the way, shooting two-over. Naomi Kim (+8) and Chloe Busnawi (+9) also played well for the Cats.
Saugus’ Khloe Guerrrero finished Thursday’s finale shooting nine-over and ended the season just a few strokes away from being a top-eight golfer in league.
Golden Valley’s Bailey Liebermann also finished out the year strong and led the Grizzlies once again, shooting 10-over.
Waters was unsure of what kind of season was ahead of his team over the summer. Valencia had graduated three starters in 2022, leaving some holes in the lineup. However, Jang and An’s presence quickly impacted the team and Waters knew he had something special brewing.
“Having those two freshmen really elevated our team in terms of our overall team score,” Waters said. “So, that was a very pleasant surprise. Once we had them, looking around and seeing how talented the returners were, we kind of knew we had something special here. These are special girls so the future looked good from the very beginning. And so it was nice to see them actually be able to finish it off, which a lot of teams can’t do with this game. It’s a tough game.”
An has played in big youth tournaments all over the country and has taken the pressure of high school golf well. The freshman has also adapted to playing on a team, something she hasn’t taken for granted.
“Usually you play individually, so it’s just great to be on a team and have other people to back you up,” An said. “Usually you’re all by yourself but it’s just more fun when you play as a team. You have other teammates and you get that support from your team.”
The top teams will now enjoy a week off before entering the CIF postseason. The top teams will head into the postseason at Los Robles Greens in Thousand Oaks on Monday, Oct. 23.
Valencia and West Ranch are each talented enough to go far into the playoffs and turn some heads on either the team or individual stages.
“We’re not done yet, though. We can make some noise in the playoffs,” Waters said. “When you get to the next level, you have to raise your game, and you have to elevate. Talent-wise, they’re there. We have the talent and the ability. Can we approach it the right way mentally and be in the right spot to bring our A-game?”
No matter the outcome, Leh is just looking forward to one more ride with her team.
“I just want to keep making the best memories possible, especially for our freshmen,” Leh said. “This is their first year on the team so it should be something to be remembered.”