WolfPack golf preview: 2012

Adam Williams, Sports Editor Ω

Natasha MacKenzie will be the driving force behind the WolfPack women’s golf program. – Photo by TRU Athletics

The TRU WolfPack golf team has undergone drastic roster changes heading into the 2012 season including the addition of Natasha MacKenzie, the first female golfer in the program’s history.

A native of Kamloops, MacKenzie will blaze the trail for the ladies program four years after the addition of the golf team to TRU’s athletic portfolio.

“[Being on the team] is awesome, it’s nice to get it started,” said MacKenzie, whose aspirations of playing for TRU started back in 2011. “At the beginning there was a little bit more pressure. Having a girl on the team I kind of had to prove myself, but now it’s cool and we all get along.”

MacKenzie has been golfing for three years and was turned on to the sport at the urging of her husband. She already boasts a career best round of even par, but is still modest and open about areas where she needs to improve.

“Long irons,” said MacKenzie, laughing,  “and my mental game. It’s tough, when you’re down a couple strokes, it’s hard to have the mindset to get it back.”

MacKenzie is the only athlete to commit to the ladies side of the program, though it is an area that has plenty of room for growth. In the team golf setup, the WolfPack could have up to three ladies competing, with only two scores counting to the overall team score. Should the demand be there, the program has space to carry up to five athletes. The development of the ladies program is something that has come on suddenly, but it’s a development that head coach Bill Bilton Jr. is pleased to see.

“My commitment to the university was that if, or when, a [ladies] team would come up I would take it on as well. It makes sense that the kids practice here at The Dunes, I’m coaching them, might as well do that at the same time,” said Bilton, who is also the vice-president of operations at The Dunes at Kamloops. “The girls team kind of just evolved at the last minute. Natasha came to me just a month ago. So we look to build on that going forward.”

While the introduction of the ladies program is a huge step for the university and its athletics program, it will come with its fair share of challenges. The golf team receives support from the university, but little to no funding, which means players are required to fundraise for their seasons. It’s certainly the largest challenge facing both the men’s and women’s team this season.

“They have to bring the community together in order to make the program work, to the tune of $20,000-$30,000 per year. So it’s a big financial obligation,” Bilton said. “But as far as the cohesiveness of the team it’s all good. There’s a good chemistry there.”

The golf team has undergone drastic changes this season, with only two players returning to the roster. Chase Broadfoot and Tim Birk are the team’s sole veterans and will be counted on to lead a squad full of youngsters. That said, age doesn’t necessarily mean much in the world of competitive sports and coach Bilton has liked what he’s seen from some of the new recruits. Bilton singled out Nic Corno, shooting consistently in the low seventies, as the newcomer who has impressed most in the young season.

“I like to hear it. It just shows that the practice we’ve been putting in has really helped my game,” Corno said. “I just want to do well as an individual and try and help our team finish in the top three so we can make nationals.”

The Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) National Championship will take place in Oshawa this season and it’s clear that the WolfPack is intent on being one of the teams to make it there. It would be a return to form for the team, who won the championship in 2009.

“Obviously the focus, you can’t lose your focus, is on winning a provincial championship,” Bilton said. “Then from there, hopefully we can earn a spot [at nationals] and head that way.”

Regardless of how the team finishes this season, it’s clear that the program is heading in the right direction. The WolfPack has enjoyed a fair amount of success in its early existence. The addition of the women’s program and its ability to attract standout first year athletes like Nic Corno demonstrates the strength of its recruitment efforts. Access to a facility like The Dunes at Kamloops and a solid coaching staff should bring the team success for years to come.

For Natasha, just being a part of the team is a victory of sorts. It’s clear that the last few weeks have been a whirlwind, but it hasn’t dampened her enthusiasm.

“I’m just excited to get started,” MacKenzie said. “I’ve never played against any other universities, this is all new to me, but it’s going to be a really good experience.”

The WolfPack will host the season’s opening tournament Sept. 8-9 at The Dunes at Kamloops.