By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Ciera Min has invested heavily into her golf game, playing in tons of national junior tournaments on the mainland to sharpen and showcase her skills, catching Gonzaga coach Brad Rickel’s attention.
“I first saw Ciera at the Junior Worlds a few years ago and immediately loved the way she played golf,” he said. “She has a beautiful golf swing and plays a controlled, smart game of golf. I’m thrilled she chose Gonzaga as the place she wants to play college golf.”
The Waiakea senior signed her national letter of intent with the Bulldogs on Wednesday. She verbally committed in March and made an official visit in September to the Division I school located in Spokane, Wash.
“The atmosphere at Gonzaga is great and I’m excited about that,” she said. “After getting a feel of the school, I love everything from the dorms to the team to the food at the cafe. I really like the feel. It’s small (7,800 students), so that’s nice.”
Min, who has a 3.5 grade-point average and will major in biology, has a long list of national junior golf accomplishments.
She played on three champion Hawaii teams, the Junior Americas Cup and the Mary Cave Cup with current Bulldog freshman Alice Kim, who’s from Oahu’s University High. She was on the Asia Pacific Cup, which pits Hawaii against Japan, for three years. She captained the squad this year.
Min has also competed in six Callaway Junior World Championships, including a tie for 26th in 2011.
“To qualify for six Junior Worlds is in itself quite an accomplishment,” Rickel said.
Last summer at the Women’s Amateur Public Links in Oregon, Min lost in the first round to UCLA’s Tiffany Lua, who advanced to the championship final. Min’s busy schedule included the U.S. Kids European Championship in Scotland.
Min is the defending Big Island Interscholastic Federation champion, charging back from four shots back in the final round to post an 11-stroke victory. She placed third at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament.
“My parents (Marvin and Toni) joke that they spent as much money on travel that you would need to get a college scholarship,” Min said. “To have that opportunity to be a college athlete is nice. My friends and I talk about having that dream to go to college and to officially accomplish it feels great.
“I remind myself that a lot of people have supported me and that’s what motivates me. My parents have always told me to work hard for what you want. I’m not blessed with natural talent. Working hard is something they encouraged me to do.”
Min recently took up swimming to add another element to her golf game. She has workouts twice a week that also include treadmill and breathing exercises.
She noticed instant upgrades. Her balance was better. And her putting, a weak part of her game, suddenly became a weapon.
“The resistance work in the water balances everything out,” Min said. “I used to lose my balance before. I’m not losing it now. The swimming really helps.
“My putting is a strength. Putting was never a good part of my game. I’ve always said that chipping is the strongest, most consistent part of my game.”
Gonzaga is best known for its basketball team, but women’s golf is making noise in the West Coast Conference. Last season, the Bulldogs or Zags finished second, breaking a 14-year streak in which Pepperdine and San Francisco had placed first or second.
“The main key in choosing a college is choosing a college that you love,” Min said. “It doesn’t only have to be a big-name school. My dad was thinking of me going to a Pac-12 school. But after our family visited, he saw that Gonzaga was a great school.”
Rickel is waiting with open arms, in part because his top seniors Victoria Fallgren and Genna Dodge will be graduating.
“When she gets here she will have to help fill that void,” he said. “She is fully capable of doing it and I don’t think we’ll miss a step. It confirms Gonzaga is becoming a great place to play college golf.
“She’s been verbally committed since St. Patrick’s Day, so it’s been a long wait. I’m excited she chose Gonzaga. She comes from a great family and I think they are excited to be Zags.”