Avo West girls ready to challenge Rancho Bernardo for CIF D-1 golf title

Torrey Pines senior Olivia Yun
(Ken Grosse)

When the final five teams tee it up Monday at Admiral Baker Golf Course for the first round of the 2019 CIF Division I Girls Golf Championship, it would be hard to pick anybody outside of Rancho Bernardo as the choice to be hoisting the section trophy when the 36-hole event concludes with Wednesday’s second round.

It makes sense. Coach Richard Deem’s Broncos are three-time defending D-1 champs and won last year’s crown by a whopping 32 strokes. They have a trio of the county’s top prep players in Vanessa Ho, last year’s D-I individual champion, who’s currently ranked No. 1 overall, senior Serena Chi and sophomore Casey Yu who are rated fourth and ninth among the D-I golfers in the field.

But don’t count out the Avocado West League. Likely the best overall aggregation of girls’ prep talent in San Diego, the Avo West will be sending a three-pronged strike force to challenge the favored Broncos with Torrey Pines, Carlsbad and Canyon Crest all geared up to make a run at the title. Scripps Ranch will join that foursome to round out the D-I field.

Sophomore Meghan Royal of Carlsbad
(Ken Grosse)

Torrey Pines and Scripps Ranch tied for second behind Rancho Bernardo last year with the latter getting the runner-up call through a tiebreaker. Canyon Crest was right behind that pair in fourth while Carlsbad’s youthful squad is the newcomer in this season’s section lineup. All five teams had to navigate a three-team play-in round to qualify for the championship, which they did earlier this week.

Here’s a quick look at the Avocado West contenders:

Torrey Pines Coach Chris Drake’s Falcons seem to be the most likely to be ready for a breakthrough. They are the No. 2 seed, have programmatical pedigree, having been a regular in this type of environment under Drake, and have been surging recently, particularly since the return of senior transfer Olivia Yun from a wrist injury.

Torrey sports a good combination of experience, with the likes of senior Summer Yang and Libby Fleming, and capable youth like freshmen Muzi Wei and Emily Zhou. They finished second in the league to Carlsbad in the regular season, falling twice to the Lancers without Yun available. At the recent North County Conference Tournament with Yun back in tow, the Falcons knocked off both Carlsbad and CCA and have been steadily improving their numbers as far as differential and rankings are concerned.

Joanna Zhang was low scorer for CCA in the CIF Play-in.
(Ken Grosse)

“Rancho Bernardo is a truly outstanding program and Vanessa Ho is one of the best players in the county, if not the state,” said Drake. “That said, I think our girls are ready to have this opportunity. They can see that we’ve been closing the gap and nobody feels like they’ve played their best yet.

“Before Olivia returned, it felt like we wanted to believe we could compete for a championship, that it would have taken more than us playing our best to succeed. Now, we feel if we put our best out there, we’ll be right in the championship picture.”

Carlsbad First-year Head Coach Jared Miller undoubtedly has the youngest roster in the in the tournament with one junior, one sophomore and three freshmen at the head of his cast. Underestimate their youth at your own risk. The Lancers captured the Avocado West League title, out-scoring Torrey Pines and Canyon Crest twice apiece in dual competition.

Sophomore Megan Royal is the fifth-ranked player in the Division I tourney, has shown that she has the quality to win an event of this stature and is expected to provide leadership for the younger crew. The freshmen duo of Jasmine Kahler and Andee Avery have played above their age and the sister pair of junior April and freshman Tiffany Lin have also been solid contributors.

“On paper, Rancho Bernardo has got to be the favorite going in, based on the fact that they’re defending champions, have been consistent and have a couple of aces at the top of their lineup,” said Miller. “Our girls have been champing at the bit to get to this moment and they’ve demonstrated the ability to click on and play up to their competition—playing in a tough league like the Avocado West certainly helps us be prepared.”

Junior Libby Fleming of Torrey Pines
(Ken Grosse)

“They may be young and they like to have fun but put them at the first tee and they’re all business. We’re going to try to stick to the same routines we’ve followed all season and not treat this any differently. I had a high school basketball coach who always used to say ‘play loose but firm’—that’s something we’ll try to follow this week.”

Canyon Crest The Avocado West’s third CIF entry, Canyon Crest had to face an unusual hurdle just to get here. Despite the fact that his Ravens were ranked fifth in the CIF’s differential rating system, lower-ranked El Camino was given the nod as host team in the CIF Play-in Round this week on the basis of a dual match win over CCA early in the season.

Coach Dustin Lackey’s squad overcame that slight, posting an 11-stroke decision over the Wildcats on their home course. Two sophomores, the up-and-coming Joanna Zhang (36) and the ultra-consistent Sofina Firouzi (37), paced Canyon Crest that day and they will be joined by the likes of juniors Michelle Yi, who was the first-round leader at last year’s CIF Championships, and Miranda Xu. Isabel Heaton affords senior stability.

“We’ve been playing well lately and I’m hoping that we can take what we’ve been doing and transition it into the CIF tournament,” said Lackey. “On any given course, on any given day, you put together five good scores and anything can happen.

“We’ll obviously expect to see the same kind of performances we’ve seen in the past from Miranda, Sofina and Michelle and if our other three girls can augment that with low rounds, we’ll be hard to beat.

“Finals were last week at CCA so that pressure’s gone. Our girls are excited to have that behind them. They should be clear-headed and ready to go.”