Torrey Pines, Canyon Crest girls part of strong North County contingent at CIF Golf Championship

Junior Muzi Wei led Torrey Pines to last year's CIF Division I title.
Junior Muzi Wei led Torrey Pines to last year’s CIF Division I title.
(Ken Grosse)

It was just five months ago that a youngish Torrey Pines girls golf team played its way to a surprisingly easy second straight CIF Division I championship, culminating its title run at La Costa Resort.

All but one player returns for veteran Head Coach Chris Drake but repeating for a third consecutive year definitely doesn’t figure to be quite as straightforward for the Falcons as last May’s 51-stroke domination.

While Torrey Pines certainly has to be considered among the challengers, Drake’s squad will not be the favorite when the top teams in San Diego convene on Bernardo Heights Country Club and La Costa Resort Monday, Nov. 1 and Thursday, Nov. 4 respectively.

Carlsbad senior Meghan Royal is among the favorites for CIF individual honors.
Carlsbad senior Meghan Royal is among the favorites for CIF individual honors.
(Ken Grosse)

This year’s battle for prep supremacy will have a distinct North County flavor. Four of the top six seeded Division I teams—Carlsbad, Torrey Pines, Canyon Crest and El Camino--are from the New Coastal League.

Carlsbad is tabbed as the team to beat according to the statistical formula (differentials) used to rank players and teams throughout the regular season. In senior Meghan Royal and juniors Jasmine Kahler and Andee Avery, the well-tested Lancer lineup features three of the seven highest-rated individuals, as well as solid senior Tiffany Linn.

In contrast, by the numbers, Torrey Pines’ No. 1 player is soon-to-be 14-year-old freshman Sehee Sim in the No. 11 position although the Falcons boast six in the first 40. Carlsbad has beaten Torrey Pines twice head-to-head—by 14 strokes a week ago Tuesday at Aviara and by four two days later at The Grand Del Mar. On Oct. 20, at the North County Conference (NCC) Championships, the Lancers again prevailed, taking the New Coastal League title by 14 strokes. Torrey Pines was runner-up, followed by El Camino and CCA.

Freshman Sehee Sim has been a big addition for Torrey Pines.
Freshman Sehee Sim has been a big addition for Torrey Pines.
(Ken Grosse)

Despite evidence suggesting otherwise, Drake, who has guided girls teams to 10 CIF crowns in his tenure at Torrey Pines, views his crew as a legitimate threat to any team in the field, including Carlsbad.

“This actually feels a little like last year,” said Drake. “We were not necessarily favored going in but, at CIF, our girls lit it up.

“You can throw differentials out the window in post-season. The team that comes in ready and can focus through 36 holes will win it.” Each team sends out six players with the top five scorers counting towards the team total.

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, girls golf played its 2020 season in the spring of 2021 instead of the traditional fall slot. That quick turnaround back to a fall calendar, coupled with an earlier-than-usual start time for the fall academic semester created a bit of a condensed grind that makes Drake feel like his team has not yet hit its stride.

“We still have a super young team and when I look at the path we’re on, I can see we’re starting to play better golf as a unit,” said Drake. “It’s always been our objective to be playing our best at the end of the season and we’re on the road towards doing that.”

Long-hitting junior Muzi Wei, Torrey’s best CIF individual finisher last spring (T10) and the uber accurate Sim are supported by senior Kelsie Park, junior Emily Zhou, sophomores Lucy Yang and Annie Zhang and freshman Sydney Sirinian. Sim fired a 70-70—140 that was good for second place at the NCC-New Coastal event.

Also penciled in as a potential title contender is Torrey Pines’ neighborhood rival Canyon Crest Academy, runner-up in last year’s title hunt. First-year Head Coach Jim Farrar sports a pair of seniors—Sofina Firouzi (T3 at the New Coastal tourney) and Joanna Zhang—at the front of his roster. Both were top 20 finishers as juniors. Whether the Ravens have enough top-tier talent to challenge Carlsbad or the depth to deal with Torrey Pines will be the question.

Carlsbad brings an intriguing storyline to the party. With the same cast of stars, the Lancers, under now second-year Head Coach Brook Brand, were projected to snag the CIF banner last May but got derailed by health issues that forced them to withdraw from the team competition.

“Having been the favorite coming in, it was a tough one to swallow, that’s for sure,” recalled Brand. “But our girls understood, had a good attitude and almost immediately were ready to go after it this year.

“They’ve worked hard pretty much straight through since the end of last year. I feel our team is due for a win but if we’ve learned anything last year it’s that you can’t predict what’s going to happen. We know what the goal is but we have to be ready to roll with the punches.”

In the Torrey camp, Drake’s got a little history of his own to draw from. “My girls know they’re in a program that has a championship legacy,” said Drake. “They want to establish themselves as part of that legacy.

“It’s a real motivator for them and can be intimidating for the teams they’re playing against.”

The CIF Playoffs actually begin Tuesday, Oct. 26 when 16 teams will participate in a series of play-in tournaments that will produce five winners who will advance to the championship round.

In Division II, the North Coast will be represented by Cathedral Catholic and San Dieguito, seeded fourth and fifth respectively. Don junior Renda Wakeman is a returning CIF qualifier.

Canyon Crest senior Sofina Firouzi
Canyon Crest senior Sofina Firouzi
(Ken Grosse)

Q&A with Sofina Firouzi

Canyon Crest senior Sofina Firouzi has been one of the top high school golfers in San Diego since she arrived at Canyon Crest Academy as a freshman. She finished 31st individually in the CIF Championship that first season, tied for sixth as a sophomore and tied for 10th in her junior campaign. Her coach, Jim Farrar, is a huge fan.

“I can’t really find a weak spot in her game,” says Farrar. “She usually drives in the center of the fairway, is one heck of a putter, sees the course so well and understands her own game which allows her to always put herself in situations where she can score.” Despite her plethora of talent, it’s Firouzi’s off-the-course skills that impress Farrar the most.

“Her maturity might be her No. 1 asset,” he said. “When I first met her as a freshman, she was as mature as most seniors.

“She also brings a lot of positive energy to the team and is so humble—all the things you hear about great players, she has.”

The 5-foot-3, 19-year-old Firouzi, who has a weighted GPA well north of 4.0, averages about 245 yards off the tee and is ticketed to play next year at Santa Clara, should be prominent in the chase for this year’s individual CIF honors. In the lead-up to the Championship, she took time to discuss her own game, her team’s potential and several other golf and non-golf related topics.

Q—What do you consider the strength of your game and how would you describe yourself as a golfer?

FIROUZI—If I had to point to one thing I would say putting in definitely a strength. It’s a specialty of my coach, Dave Uyeda (Grand Del Mar). Through him I’ve learned a lot about the putting aspect of the game and my putting success is based on the knowledge I’ve accumulated. He has a lot of different machines and programs that produce so many different statistics and numbers to look at. I spend quite a bit of time analyzing my putting stroke—launch angles, spins, acceleration ratios—all trying to achieve consistency. When something doesn’t go right on the course, I know why and can adjust on the fly.

As far as describing myself as a golfer, I’m very analytical and very level-headed. I place a lot of value on the mental game but I always keep a smile on my face and try to remember that the reason you play golf is that it’s fun.

Q—How did you get started with golf?

FIROUZI—When I was young, my family lived in Orinda, in Northern California. My oldest sister was taking lessons and I always had to go along and sit in the car. One day I saw the First Tee kids (a nonprofit youth golf development program) and it looked like fun. I thought if I was going to be there I might as well play.

Later, we moved to San Diego and during a trip to Costco I saw some kids clubs. I asked my mom if we could get them and she said she would as long as I promised to take lessons and use them. A year later, when I was about 10, I started playing tournaments and I’ve been at it ever since. When I was younger, I played soccer and lacrosse, did ballet and was also a swimmer. When it came time to decide on one sport, it was an easy choice.

Q—What were your most exhilarating and embarrassing moments on a golf course?

FIROUZI—I would have to say the most exhilarating was my freshman year, the first time we beat Torrey Pines. That hadn’t happened in a long time. I’m sure I would feel the same way if CCA beats Torrey in the CIF tournament. I know we’re capable of it.

The most embarrassing was probably this year in our first high school match of the season. I had just flew in around midnight on an international flight and hadn’t touched a club in about two weeks. I topped my first shot. It went about 20 feet. I just stated laughing at it and so did my teammates who also encouraged me to keep going. I still saved par.

Q—What do you like most about high school golf?

FIROUZI—I love the team aspect. I’m very competitive, play in a lot of junior tournaments and when you’re out there, you don’t have people to cheer you on and support you. Being on the course and sharing that with a group of girls your own age is a really fun experience.

With the time commitment, I can understand why some better players choose not to play, but for me, it’s a great opportunity that I wouldn’t want to miss out on.

Q—What can you share about your short and long term goals?

FIROUZI—My long term goal is to go professional and in the prelude to that, I want to play well in college golf and win the NCAA Tournament. Obviously, those are huge goals. I’m intending to study mechanical engineering at Santa Clara, a subject I really enjoy, and my back-up plan if pro golf doesn’t pan out is to be able to design golf clubs which I think would be amazing.

Short term, I’m going to graduate early from Canyon Crest and will spend some time really working on my game. Next summer I plan to play in a lot of USGA qualifying events and hope to get into some of the prestigious amateur tournaments.

Q—What are some of your non-golf interests?

FIROUZI—I do a lot of community service. I’m vice president of the Youth Golf Alliance which is a student-led group that promotes golf in the community. We created more than 5,700 homemade face shields that we donated nationally and in Mexico.

I’m president of SHE Club (sustaining humanity through education) and involved with the Canyon Crest Computer Science Connectivity Club and Project Aquascope among others.

I enjoy working out and like to read, mostly non-fiction.

Q—What are your team and personal goals for this year’s CIF event?

FIROUZI—On the team side, I feel very confident that we can perform well. Our recent form has been very good and we’ll definitely be having fun out there. I can’t wait to see what we can do. I think the top three is achievable.

Personally, I’m aiming to win, of course, but I’m always just striving to do my best, trying to put together a couple of solid rounds. We’re playing two good courses which I’m looking forward to. For me to be at the top, I think it will be very important to hit as many greens in regulation as I can. Since putting is a strength, hitting greens would put me in more potential birdie and less potential bogey situations.