By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
For the University of Hawaii at Hilo women’s golf team, there’s no better place to play than on your home course.
That’s why Vulcans coach Jim DeMello believes his 13th-ranked squad will fare well in the Dennis Rose Intercollegiate, scheduled Monday and Tuesday at the Waikoloa Kings’ and Beach golf courses.
“We play our home course three or four times a month and the girls are comfortable playing there,” DeMello said. “We played there two Sundays ago and all the girls broke 80.
“I feel the team has a lot of confidence going into the Dennis Rose Intercollegiate and we hope to win it all.”
UHH’s final fall tournament features nine women’s teams and nine men’s teams. The women will play on the Waikoloa Beach course, the men on the Waikoloa Kings’ course.
“It’s a competitive tournament with a lot of quality teams, most of them from the West Region,” DeMello said. “In the girls field, we also have Nova Southeastern University, which finished runner-up nationally last year and previously won four straight national titles.
“Nova Southeastern University in ranked lower than us in the national top 25 right now, but they have a top quality program and will be tough.”
Rounding out the women’s field are Cal State Chico, Cal State East Bay, Hawaii Pacific University, Lubbock Christian University, St. Martin’s, Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria. Three-time defending champion Grand Canyon University is not playing this year.
DeMello’s Vulcans recorded runner-up finishes in their two previous fall season tournaments — the St. Martin’s Invitational (Oct. 3-5) in Olympia, Wash., and the Western Washington Tournament (Oct. 6-8) in Bellingham, Wash. UHH junior Kristen Sawada, out of Mililani High School on Oahu, captured individual medalist honors at the St. Martin’s event, shooting a 6-over-par 150 with rounds of 74 and 76.
DeMello has went with the lineup of juniors Sawada and Erika Morihiro, seniors Kacie Harada and Dayna Bersamin, and sophomore Jade Salvador in the first two tournaments. Rounding out the roster are senior Nyssa Aoki, sophomore Shannon Abarra and freshman Mariah Paiste.
“The last two years, we’ve finished third in the Dennis Rose Intercollegiate,” DeMello said. “This year, we’re a better team and we hope to do well in this tournament, the last one in our fall season. This week, we want to focus on playing well and finishing the fall season strong.
“The past two years, we did well in the fall and didn’t play as well during the spring season. Our girls’ goal this year is to make it to the West Regional — the top nine teams in the region advance, so we have to shoot well. Then if we can finish in the top three at regional, we would earn a berth in the nationals. That’s my ultimate goal, to get the girls to the nationals. We’ve never been before.”
The Vulcans will finish their regular season with the Pacific West Conference championships, April 20-22 in Honolulu. They hope to follow that up with a trip to the NCAA Division II West Regional, May 3-7 in Mansfield, Texas — and if DeMello’s dream comes true, a trip to the D-II national championships, May 13-17 in Conover, N.C.
“I know our girls’ goal is to get to the regionals,” DeMello said, “but I want them to change it to playing in the national championships because that’s the ultimate goal (for collegiate golfers).”
UHH is the two-time defending men’s champion and will be joined in the Dennis Rose Intercollegiate field by Brigham Young University-Hawaii, Chaminade University, Cal State East Bay, Cal State Stanislaus, Hawaii Pacific University, Notre Dame de Namur University, St. Martin’s University and Wilmington University.
The Vulcans, under coach Earl Tamiya, struggled last week in the Otter Invitational in Seaside, Calif., finishing 13th in the 15-team field. In their two previous fall tournaments, UHH placed 6th in the Golfweek Fall Invitational (Sept. 29-Oct. 1) in Bend, Ore. and fifth in the 42nd Viking Invitational (Sept. 22-24) in Bellingham, Wash.
Corey Kozuma, a senior out of Iolani Schools on Oahu, is the defending men’s champion at the Dennis Rose Intercollegiate. Last year, he turned in his best tournament performance of his Vulcan career and won by seven strokes.
Kozuma’s top finish this season is sixth place at the Viking Invitational. He carded rounds of 74, 72, 70 to finish at even-par 216.
UHH teammate Dale Yamauchi, out of Waiakea High School, has the best Vulcan finish this season, with third place in the Golfweek Invitational. The junior shot 78-82—150.
Tamiya has went with the lineup of seniors Kozuma, Chris Shimomura and Christian Agosto, Yamauchi, and sophomore Kyeton Littel.
The Vulcans played consistent golf in their first two fall tournaments before finishing 76 shots off the lead at the Otter Invitational.
“I’m still trying to put my finger on what happened to us last week,” Tamiya said. “We just messed up on the last nine holes and lost some focus. Coming into the Dennis Rose tournament, we have to have better course management and not try to gamble as much.
“I still think we have a chance to be really competitive this week, but the boys have to put it together. They need to settle down. I think they’ll be comfortable playing at home. I hope we can do it (defend title).”
Tamiya called this week’s men’s competition “a really nice field.”
Golf notes: The teams will play a practice round today, starting at 12:30 p.m. on the two scenic Waikoloa course.
Both fields tee off at 7 a.m. each day with the men using a shotgun start and women on tee times. The teams will play 36 holes Monday and 18 holes Tuesday.
Before Kozuma won the men’s title in 2012, former Vulcan Jamie Hall captured individual medalist honors in 2011. …
Grand Canyon’s Charlotte Jaengkit pocketed last year’s women’s title.