By Joshua Fitch
After completing a season that began all the way back in September 2018, the Youngstown State University women’s golf team has its sights set on a conference championship as the Horizon League tournament begins Saturday in Orlando, Florida.
The team will fly to the Sunshine State Friday before the tournament tees off Saturday. Taking the challenge will be junior Katlyn Shutt, and a group of freshmen, Victoria Grans, Puthita Khuanrudee, Rattika Sittigool and Jenna Vivo.
This lineup has competed in the better part of the spring tournaments including its most recent first-place finish during the YSU Spring Invitational played at the Youngstown Country Club.
This is the fifth time in program history the Penguins have won at least four tournaments in a season. The most recent prior to this season was during the 2015-2016 season.
Nate Miklos, coach of the Penguins women’s golf team says any win is a good win.
“It always feels good to win, especially on our home course. Right now everyone’s game is in pretty good shape,” Miklos said. “We just have to get in a little bit of practice and work on some maintenance aspects of the game.”
Practice will continue at the Youngstown Country Club, where Shutt tied for medalist honors after an even-par 72 which included five birdies, eight pars and was the fifth finish in the top five this season. For her performance at the Spring Invitational, Shutt has been name the Nike Horizon League Athlete of the Week for the second time this season.
Three other Penguins finished in the top 10, Khuanrudee finished fourth with 73, Vivo tied for sixth with 76 and Sittigool tied for eighth with 77. Grans finished tied for 11th place after carding a 78.
For Vivo, her sixth-place finish matched her best of the season and has now earned her second top-10 finish, while finishing in the top-15 in four straight events. This season has been quite the adjustment for the freshman from Boardman, Ohio, but one Vivo has tackled head-on thanks to her teammates.
“It’s been a lot to handle, but it’s been a lot of fun traveling with the team,” Vivo said. “We’ve had a really successful season. It’s nice to have good leaders like Megan [Creager] and [Shutt], and we have a really good time with each other. They make it easier to adjust. It’s very beneficial to have them since they’ve both played at conference several times. Give us some tips to stay focused and have fun.”
The fun will hopefully continue as the focus now shifts to Orlando where the Penguins will look to become Horizon League champs for the first time since 2015, when the team was led by Emily Dixon, Allison Mitzel and Aislynn Merling who all finished in the top five.
Last season, the Penguins finished in seventh place during conference play, however this year it’s a different feel. This time, the team is taking their best swings at the perfect time.
“It’s nice to know we’re playing our best at the right time and we’re all on the same page,” Vivo said. “It’s very exciting going into conference knowing what we can accomplish there as a team. It’s a lot because most of us have never been in this atmosphere, but I’m ready to go play for a championship.”
Coach Nate Miklos adds that the only factor the Penguins can’t control is what the other teams do and how they perform. No matter what happens in Orlando, this season has been one to remember.
“It’s been a phenomenal year, just very, very proud of the team,” Miklos said. “I knew we had a strong team coming into the year, but everything we’ve done has exceeded my expectations. Our focus all year has been becoming the best team we can be, and the team’s done an incredible job with that.”
Being the best team one can be involves so much more than what fans see out on the course. It involves unsung heroes and leaders like Creager, the only senior on the Penguins roster. Creager will not participate in conference play, but is traveling with the team to be the leader they need.
“I’m honored coach is taking me so I can help any way I can and make an impact off the course,” Creager said. “Winning wouldn’t surprise me at all. I’ve seen what this team can do and there’s no doubt in my mind we can win.”
Miklos praised Creager’s leadership and team-first mentality.
“She’s handled it with incredible maturity,” Miklos said. “She knew that the five we have in the lineup gave the team the best chance to win, and she handled it extremely well. She’s more than happy to do anything she can to continue to be a leader and support the team anyway she can.”
As the season comes to a close, the freshman in the lineup will be looking not only to Creager, but Miklos as well, who still has one goal in mind.
“We’re going down there with the goal to be champions at the end,” Miklos said. “I feel very confident that if we go down there and continue to do the things we’ve been doing all year, we’re going to have a great opportunity.”