By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Earl Tamiya has the easiest booking job going. The University of Hawaii at Hilo men’s golf coach sent out 19 invitations, and all were quick to R.S.V.P. in the affirmative.
These days, the Amer Ari Intercollegiate, which starts today at Waikoloa Kings’ Course, sells itself.
“They come for the competition,” Tamiya said, “not only because it’s Hawaii.”
The Division I entrants are the same as last year and are headlined by six teams ranked in the top 25, including No. 2 Georgia Tech and No. 3 Oklahoma State. No. 15 UCLA and No. 18 Washington tied for the top spot last year.
“A pretty loaded field,” said Tamiya, who is never quite sure how the Division II Vulcans will fare when they step up in competition in the tournament that marks their spring opener. “It’s always different playing the top dogs.”
Last year, UHH finished 18th out of 20 teams, one spot ahead of the University of Hawaii.
“The pressure is on big-time, especially for our team,” Tamiya said. “We’ve played enough D-I competition that it should be comfortable. But you never know until it gets going.
“In practices, we’ve been like a yo-yo. I don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ve been up and down.”
For what it’s worth, UHH should have the home-course advantage. During the fall season at Waikoloa, the Vulcans annually host the Dennis Rose Intercollegiate, a Division II tournament they won last last October as senior Chris Shimomura took medalist honors.
“We practice here so much,” senior Corey Kozuma said. “We’ve seen it show its teeth and we’ve seen it calm.”
Conditions were pristine during Wednesday’s practice round, but Kozuma and Tamiya said rain was in the forecast for Saturday, when the 54-hole tournament is to wrap up. Shotgun starts are scheduled for 7:30 a.m. today, Friday and Saturday.
Tamiya likes to joke of bringing a “wind machine” to whip things into a frenzy at Waikoloa.
“Wind is the great equalizer here,” he said.
Auburn’s Dominic Bozzelli graduated last year after carding a two-shot victory, but there is no shortage of top-ranked contenders in the medalist race. Stanford’s Patrick Rodgers and Georgia Tech’s Ollie Schniederjans are ranked second in the world amateur and NCAA Golfstat rankings, respectively, while Washington’s Cheng-Tsung Pan is in the top 10 in each. Lorens Chan, a former Hawaii High School Athletic Association champion at Iolani (Oahu), leads the charge for UCLA.
“My freshman year, I was in awe of these players and what they were capable of. I knew I was able to turn on the TV a few months later and see them,” Kozuma said.
“I’m older now, and it’s more of an appreciation than awe. I know we can compete with them. You learn to get into your own bubble.”
Kozuma finished second at Dennis Rose, while UHH junior Dalen Yamauchi tied for third. The other two UHH scorers this week will be senior Christian Agosto and sophomore Kyeton Littel.
The Vulcans are ranked seventh in the West Region — the top 10 go to the NCAA postseason — and they have a chance to boost their positioning if they can finish ahead of Cal State Monterey Bay, which is ranked seventh nationally in Division II.
“If we could clip Monterey, that would be great for us,” said Kozuma, who has 10 top-10 finishes on his resume. “The team is striking the ball really well. In practice we’ve been working on our games and focusing on what we need to focus on.”
The UHH softball team lost twice to Montana State-Billings, 7-6 in each game, in Las Vegas, falling to 1-3 on the season on Wednesday.
Hannah Peterson (1-1) took the loss in the first game, yielding 11 hits and seven runs in 4 1/3 innings. Brandi Wilson finished 3 for 3 with a home run and three RBIs, while Rebecca Lee went 3 for 4 with two runs scored. In the second game, Ashley Nelson (0-2) lasted only 1 2/3 innings and allowed six hits and four runs. Tianalia Fa’asua belted a three-run home run for UHH.
“We’re close right now, but just not able to finish and win a game,” Vulcans coach Jaime Wallin said. “It comes down to being able to perform in all three facets.”