Women's Championships Set To Tee Off From Coeur d'Alene
Western Washington's Megan Billeter (left), who tied the all-time GNAC low round earlier this year, will be one of the golfers looking to knock off last year's champion, SMU's Kathryn Crimp (right).
Western Washington's Megan Billeter (left), who tied the all-time GNAC low round earlier this year, will be one of the golfers looking to knock off last year's champion, SMU's Kathryn Crimp (right).

Friday, April 15, 2022

PORTLAND, Ore. – In 2021, Western Washington snapped a six-year championship drought. In 2022, the Vikings are not planning to wait as long to hoist a championship banner again.

The defending champion Vikings enter as the highest-ranked team at the GNAC Women’s Golf Championships taking place on Monday and Tuesday at the Coeur d’Alene Golf Resort. The event returns to Coeur d’Alene for the first time since 2019 after the 2020 championships were canceled and the 2021 tournament was held at The Home Course in Dupont, Washington.

While the Vikings may be favorites to take home the title, the other four programs will look to replicate the magic that Saint Martin’s junior Kathryn Crimp managed last year when she shot her two lowest rounds of the season in the tournament to stun the field and become the first individual medalist in Saints’ women’s golf history.

Western Washington, which had four of the top six placers in last year’s championships, will trot out a lineup that includes the conference’s top two individual scorers. Junior Megan Billeter and sophomore Claire Moon each have a stroke average of 77.6 over 14 rounds. Billeter started the season in record-book fashion, tying the GNAC all-time single-round record with a 4-under-par 68 at the Saint Martin’s Invitational in September. She has had strong performances in the spring season as well, including a seventh-place finish against a 100-player field at the Fujikura Invitational in Vista, California in March.

Moon recorded three top-10s this season, including third in the Saint Martin’s Invitational at 7-over-par 151 and 10th at the 80-player Sonoma State Invitational in October at 155. She was the top GNAC finisher in 15th place at the Tim Tierney Pioneer Shootout in Alameda, California in February. Between Billeter (three), senior Sarah Shea (two) and Moon (one), the Vikings have taken home half of the 12 GNAC Player of the Week awards this year. Behind those three, Dani Bailey and Elise Sumner each finished in the top six at last year’s GNAC Championships but only played six and four rounds, respectively, in the regular season this year.

The Vikings have a team stroke average of 312.9 over 14 strokes, five strokes better than any other GNAC school. Western Washington won the seven-team Saint Martin’s Invitational in September, defeating the other four GNAC programs head-to-head, and finished third in the 14-team Westminster Wasatch Invitational in October. They are ranked No. 32 in the latest Golfstat rankings from April 12.

If there is any cause for concern with WWU, it’s that they haven’t played their best golf recently. The Vikings haven’t finished higher than 10th in their three spring tournaments and came 23rd out of 28 teams (third out of five GNAC teams) the last time they hit the links at the RJGA Palm Valley Classic in Goodyear, Arizona on April 1-2.

If it’s not the Vikings who win the team title on Tuesday, momentum is on the side of Northwest Nazarene. The Nighthawks have three of the seven conference golfers with a stroke average under 80 and have been playing well in the spring season. Freshman Christine Cho ranks fourth in the conference with a stroke average of 78.1 and has a GNAC-high four top-10 finishes this year. Junior Hannah Holloway and sophomore Madison Gridley rank sixth and seventh, with Holloway averaging a 78.9 over 16 rounds and Gridley doing the same over 17 rounds.

The Nighthawks have played their best golf over the past month. They won their own NNU Intercollegiate in March with Holloway taking the individual medal at 9-over-par 153 with Cho in third. They finished 19th at the Palm Valley Classic, tying with Simon Fraser for the highest GNAC spot. Gridley was the conference’s top individual finisher, carding 5-over-par 149 to finish 21st in a 146-player field. Northwest Nazarene has a team stroke average of 320.1, third in the conference, and ranks No. 91 in the latest Golfstat rankings.

Simon Fraser has two golfers in the individual top five entering the tournament, with sophomore Shirin Anjarwalla ranking third in the conference with a 77.7 stroke average over 18 rounds and sophomore Natasha Kozlowski, who ranks fifth with a 78.6 average over 16 rounds.

They also bring the tournament’s biggest wild card in senior Estee Leung. Leung, a former GNAC Freshman of the Year and Second Team All-GNAC honoree in 2018-19, has competed in only one tournament this season. Back in November, Leung tied for 13th in the Dennis Rose Intercollegiate in Hawaii, averaging 75.7 per round and hanging in the top-10 of the 73-player field for the first two days. Leung has not competed since, but will be in the lineup for the GNAC Championships.

Simon Fraser has a team stroke average of 317.8, second in the conference. They finished second in the Saint Martin’s Invitational in September and tied for fourth at the one-day, 15-team Pack Classic in Pueblo, Colorado in March, a tournament in which Anjarwalla finished fourth individually. They rank No. 92 in the latest Golfstat rankings, one spot behind Northwest Nazarene.

Much of the focus on Saint Martin’s will be on if Crimp can repeat her 2021 performance. This year, Crimp ranks 10th in the GNAC with a stroke average of 80.9, but she was ranked eighth with an 82.6 average a year ago before rattling off rounds of 77 and 76 to win the tournament. Junior Jada French ranks 11th with an 81.3 stroke average over 15 rounds. French tied for ninth in the SMU Invitational, which included an even-par round of 72, and French and Crimp tied for the team lead at 12-over-par 156 at the Palm Valley Classic.

The Saints have a team stroke average of 326.7, fourth in the conference. They finished third in their own SMU Invitational and took fourth in the seven-team Augustana Spring Fling in March. Saint Martin’s ranks No. 113 in the latest Golfstat rankings.

Montana State Billings rounds out the competing teams. The Yellowjackets are led by senior Kinsey Irvin, who ranks eighth in the conference with an 80.1 stroke average. Irvin bested a field of 45 golfers to win the Hardrocker Invitational in Rapid City, South Dakota in September, shooting 11-over-par 155 to win by two strokes. Irvin is the only GNAC golfer to win a tournament in which more than three teams competed this season. Senior Tierney Messmer placed fifth at the Hardrocker and was MSUB’s top finisher in its most recent tournament, the Palm Valley Classic, at 14-over-par 158. At last year’s GNAC Championships, Messmer was tied for third after the first round before fading to 11th.

The Yellowjackets have a team stroke average of 342.9. They finished third as a team in the Hardrocker Invitational. Montana State Billings has shot a 36-hole season-low of 650 in each of their last two tournaments, the Pack Classic and the Palm Valley Classic, although they finished 11th and 27th in those tourneys overall. They are ranked No. 130 in the latest Golfstat rankings.

The women’s GNAC Championships begin Monday with the first round at 8:58 a.m. The second round will begin Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. Live stats can be accessed at GNACSports.com.