Coronado hopes to gain ground on talent-laden Green Valley

Coronado’s girls golf team doesn’t need to be reminded of the pedigree and pageantry surrounding rival Green Valley heading into the Sunrise Region tournament.

The accolades are unprecedented, and the Cougars – who have been chasing the Gators for the past few years – are well aware as they prepare to tee off at
1:15 p.m. Tuesday at Tuscany.

“Green Valley is the three-time defending state champs,” Coronado coach Joe Sawaia said. “I hate to call them a three-man team because that’s no disrespect to their other players, but obviously their top three have been with them for quite a while. They’re not going to be overwhelmed by the fact that it’s region. This is just another event, and they’ve been in this position before.”

The Gators, who have won four of the last five region titles, are led by arguably the state’s best golfer in Alex Kaui, the two-time defending individual state champion.

“She’s amazing,” Coronado junior Olivia Greenwald said. “I definitely have learned from the way she handles herself on the course. She doesn’t get overworked about any shot. She’s able to maintain her attitude and hit good shots.”

With all the hype surrounding Kaui, who will play at Oklahoma next year, Green Valley seniors Mercedes Khumnark and Sarah Thomas could be overlooked on a squad rich in experience and talent.

To combat the Gators’ firepower, Sawaia said he is counting on the play of sophomore Natalie Yamamoto, Ciara Clark and Greenwald to keep the Cougars within striking distance. He also said that his bottom three golfers have the opportunity to keep Coronado close by making up strokes if the meet’s decision were to fall on their shoulders.

“I expect our girls to play well,” Sawaia said. “We’ve improved every week I feel. It hasn’t always shown in the scores. But just watching their practice sessions and some of the scores improve, I think we should come out and play well.”

Coronado, which finished 15 strokes behind Green Valley in last season’s region final, got an extra boost with a 168-177 win over Green Valley on Oct. 1 at Badlands.

“It’s definitely a really big confidence boost,” Greenwald said. “To know we have girls that can beat them is a really good feeling.”

Yamamoto said that she is convinced her recent play will carry over to Tuscany’s short and leveled course.

“I definitely want to be top five in this tournament,” Yamamoto said. “I think I can do that. I think shooting in the 70s will do that. It’s a pretty easy course. If you putt it right, you can hit even or under.”

If Coronado can accomplish that, Sawaia said he believes his squad could be in position to secure its first region title since 2006.

“I don’t want to say this is the closest we’ve been,” Sawaia said. “I just feel like we’re in a better position than we’ve been in the past. The girls are excited about it. They’re talking about winning a little bit more, where (a Green Valley victory) has been such a forgone conclusion in the past.”

The Division I-A Southern Region tourney is at 10:30 a.m. today at Mountain Falls. The Sunset Region tourney is at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Bear’s Best.

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