Last fall, the Canyon Crest girls golf team made news in the Avocado West League, tying perennial top dog Torrey Pines for the league championship, determined by the results of a double round robin of dual matches during the regular season. The two teams went on to finish third and fourth in the CIF Division I Championship in November.
Coach Chris Drake’s Torrey Pines club is currently ranked fourth among all teams in San Diego with Coach Dustin Lackey and Canyon Crest right behind at No. 5. So, which one of the two will take top honors in 2019? Maybe neither.
There’s a new contender for the crown and from the looks of what’s happened in the early season, it might just be fair to label Carlsbad the favorite in the Avocado West. First-year Head Coach Jared Miller, who stepped up from the junior varsity team midway through last season, has just two returning players in his top six but boasts a dream brigade of freshmen that has vaulted his squad into unchartered territory.
If Carlsbad’s No. 3 CIF ranking and its glossy 15-0 record (3-0 in league matches) wasn’t enough to make people take notice, maybe the Lancers’, 189-199, triumph over Torrey Pines Wednesday afternoon at The Grand Del Mar will do the trick. Two of the precocious freshman group—Jasmine Kahler and Tiffany Lin—both fired even par 36s (nine holes) to pace the winners.
“This was a big win for us, our girls have been waiting for this match,” said San Diego native and Carlsbad High School graduate Miller, whose 2018 outfit won a play-in match to reach the CIF Playoffs before being ousted in the first round. “They know Torrey Pines has been a great program, what they have hoped we can be. For them, it was very, very rewarding.
“Coming from where we’ve been, this was kind of a statement and a foundation as we start to rebuild.”
Actually, that foundation had a couple of solid existing pieces in the form of sophomore Meghan Royal and junior April Lin, Tiffany’s older sister. In the CIF’s individual statistical rankings, Royal, at No. 8, is Carlsbad’s top entry (one spot ahead of Kahler) and in September won the prestigious Toyota Tour Cup Invitational for Girls 15-18 at La Costa Resort & Spa. Royal and Kahler have been the Lancers’ most consistent individuals with Tiffany Lin not far behind. The league banner is definitely in their sights.
“I feel kind of like Steve Kerr with the Golden State Warriors,” smiled Miller. “I came into a situation where we have a bunch of talent, they all work hard, like each other and love playing golf.
“We’re pretty evenly balanced and everyone in our top six has the ability to shoot a great score on a given day. The Avocado West championship is one of our goals and would be extremely important to us but it’s going to be very challenging. Torrey Pines and Canyon Crest are very, very good teams and San Marcos is coming along. We know what we’re going to have to bring.”
By that he clearly means Torrey Pines and Canyon Crest are not going to roll over. The Falcons are led by junior Libby Fleming, whose 36 matched Kahler and (Tiffany) Lin for medalist honors Wednesday. Right there with Fleming is senior Summer Yang. That pair, along with Carlsbad’s Royal and Kahler, are all ranked right at the bottom edge of the current CIF Top 10. Junior Lynne Xu and sophomore Kelsie Park both return from last season’s CIF Championship side and Drake has a couple of freshmen phenoms of his own in Muzi Wei and Emily Zhou. Drake came away impressed from the first clash with Carlsbad.
“Carlsbad’s good, they’ve got some great young players up-and-down their lineup,” said Drake. “I think we played really well and had one of our best scores of the year but definitely left some shots out there.
“It wasn’t our best but pretty close. I’m excited to get another shot at them and close the gap.” That opportunity will come Oct. 8 at The Crossings in Carlsbad.
Meanwhile, Canyon Crest is waiting in the wings. CCA’s outfit features all six members of its 2018 CIF roster but the Ravens record is just 3-5 as Lackey has taken a unique approach to his early season schedule.
“We have 11 players and we’ve tried to play a tough schedule with a lot of matches early, giving every girl experience,” said Lackey, whose team’s ledger includes losses to Rancho Bernardo and Scripps Ranch who finished 1-2 in last year’s CIF Division I tournament standings. “There’s no harm done taking a few losses in the pre-season while working on finding the perfect combination.”
Prominent among Lackey’s veterans are senior Isabel Heaton, juniors Michelle Yi and Miranda Xu and sophomore Sofina Firouzi. Firouzi is CCA’s top-ranked player at the moment, holding down the No. 16 spot, while Yi demonstrated what she’s capable of last season, leading the CIF Championship field through the first 18 holes and earning a berth in the CIF Southern California Championship at Pasadena.
“The league matches are going to be really challenging and the experience we’ve developed so far should be invaluable,” said Lackey. The Ravens are 1-0 in league action with an opening triumph over San Marcos. They will jump in full force this week, tangling with Torrey Pines Tuesday, Sept. 24, at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club and facing Carlsbad seven days later at Aviara.
All three contenders have every reason to believe they’ll only improve over the next month. Carlsbad’s youth figures to continue maturing, Torrey Pines will add Pacific Ridge transfer Olivia Yun, a senior, to its cast shortly and Canyon Crest has yet to send out its strongest lineup.
“This is the toughest collection of league teams I can remember in at least a decade,” said Drake, whose teams have won or tied for league titles every year since 2007. “Statistically, we’re pretty close and I think it’s a situation where any day any of the top teams can win. In those situations, it usually comes to the last couple of players. There’s going to be a lot of exciting golf ahead.”