After not losing a league match for 22 years, the Palm Desert High School girls' golf team saw that streak end Thursday with a 254-283 loss. Due to a positive COVID-19 test within the Kansas Men's Golf team, the Jayhawks have withdrawn from the Desert Intercollegiate and will. Merced, Calif. Golden Valley HS. Dasa Urbankova, SO, Brno, Czech Republic, College of the Desert.
The Desert Region may be one of the smallest in the NCCGA, but it is also one of the most talented. Arizona State, GAA - Chandler, and Grand Canyon have all proven to be national contenders, especially over the last few semesters. Arizona State finished in the top 10 in their first two trips to nationals during the fall 2014 & fall 2015 semesters. Grand Canyon University made their first trip to nationals in the spring of 2017 and fell two shots short of Georgia, finishing in solo second. Starting this fall, the region will feed into zone #5 during nationals qualification along with the North Florida, Southeast, South Florida, Southwest, and Texas Region. Three Desert Region teams played for a National Championship in the fall of 2017 at the Paiute Golf Resort in Las Vegas, with the weather making it a 1 day event, ASU finished with an impressive team score of -4 and were Co-Champs. GCU (A) also played well with a T6 finish. In the spring of 2018, Norwood Hills hosted the NCCGA National Championship that was won by GCU , their first championship. Jordan Yamamoto was given the Red Jacket for being the low individual. In the fall of 2018, GCU fell just short of their title defense at the Barefoot Resort in Myrtle Beach where they finished 2nd. Matthew Polivka led the way with an impressive two day total of 145 finishing T6. ASU also played for the National Championship and finished with a team total of 829. Another strong spring for this region as they sent two teams to compete for the National Championship as ASU and GCU made the trip to Purdue. GCU posted another top 10 finish while Matthew Polivka continued to impress with a T3 individual finish. Newcomers to the region, UNLV will look to make some noise this fall. It was a heated battle for the Desert region this fall as GCU and ASU both won a regional with GCU taking the crown by 2 points. They both finished in the top 11 at the National Championship as they look to further improve on that this coming spring!
Long time coming: Palm Desert girls' golf loses first league match in 22 years
Perhaps it is fitting that in one of the strangest year for high school sports, one of the desert’s greatest winning streaks has come to an end.
After not losing a league match for 22 years, the Palm Desert High School girls' golf team saw that streak end Thursday with a 254-283 loss to Desert Empire League rival Xavier Prep. The Aztecs’ league winning streak dated back to the 1998 season, the first year Palm Desert fielded a girls’ golf team.
The magnitude of the streak was not lost on the coach of the team that broke the streak.
“Going in, every time we see them, my kids all say, 'Well, they have not been beaten in however many matches,’” said Xavier Prep girls' golf coach Debbie Koyama. “Oh well, we’ll do our best. That’s just how we have gone into it.”
But this year, with girls' golf already postponed from its traditional fall dates to a spring season because of COVID-19, Koyama thought things could be different. So did Palm Desert coach Kaitlyn Ellis.
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“I see it from both perspectives. I was in the other team’s shoes of being motivated and wanting to beat (Palm Desert),” said Ellis, in her second year as head coach of Palm Desert but a former La Quinta High School Blackhawks player. “But from a coaching standpoint, my mentality was it didn’t matter if we won or lost. I want a team that supports each other and wants to get better. That’s what‘s important to me.”
In the victory, Xavier Prep was led by Amanda Albers with an 8-over 44 on the front nine of Classic Club in Palm Desert, while Aleeza Besharat shot 48. Sophia Slater shot 50, Maddie Leon shot 54 and Madison Siva shot 58, with all scores counting because the Saints had just five players.
Palm Desert, which also fielded a team with just five players rather than the maximum six, was led by Hailey Hays with a 39. Amy DeKock shot 45, while Coco Mazet shot 59, Emily Tucker shot 69 and Lily Paulmau shot 71.
Ellis said her team includes three players who are relatively new to the game, with some playing their first nine holes of golf just recently. She added it is an unsettled year because teams and individuals still don’t know if there will be a postseason for golf in the CIF-Southern Section, and it’s difficult to know which schools will be able to field teams at all.
A glorious history of success
“I have two advanced players, Hailey Hays and Amy DeKock, who I know could go really far in CIF postseason. So it is disappointing that we really don’t know where we stand with that,” Ellis said.
Ellis is just the third Aztecs girls' golf head coach in the program’s history, and both previous coaches were sad to see the streak end after 22 years.
“It was a hell of a streak, but streaks are made to stop at one point,” said Jack Stewart, the original coach of the Aztecs and now the head women’s golf coach at Redlands University, the No. 1 ranked Division III team in the country.
When Stewart started the Palm Desert team, the Aztecs were stronger than most start-up high school programs because Palm Desert had some strong girls players who had been playing on the powerful Palm Desert boys' team.
“They were good players, so we had some experience,” Stewart said.
Stewart’s teams consistently won the Desert Valley League and qualified for CIF-Southern Section regional events. The Aztecs also went to the CIF state tournament three consecutive years starting in 2010, finishing third twice in that span.
When Kurt Ney took over for Stewart after the 2012 season, he said he was well aware of the streak.
“My first year we only had two players (returning) and one of them was maybe not going to play,” Ney said. “So I didn’t know what would happen. Fortunately, we had seven freshmen come into the school that year.”
Ney oversaw the school’s transition – as both boys' and girls' coach – from the Desert Valley League to the Desert Empire League.
“The pressure of that streak was on me right out of the gate,” said Ney, who left after the 2018 season to move to Michigan, where he is now the general manager of a nine-hole municipal course in St. Ignace, Mich. “When I left, the team was pretty strong, but I don’t know they were capable of going on a state run.”
The streak continued through Ellis’ first year as Palm Desert coach in the fall of 2019 and through the team’s first DEL match last week against Palm Springs. But Xavier Prep brought the streak to a halt.
“It’s a big deal,” said Koyama, who said her players didn’t really think about the Palm Desert streak until Koyama told them after the match they had won. “I’m glad it happened. I’m really happy for the kids. I’m really happy for my school.”
Palm Desert still has the remainder of the DEL season to play this year, with Xavier Prep now leading the league with a 2-0 record.
“It was an unbelievable streak. A lot of great players went through there,” Ney said. “But this is a set of unforeseen circumstances, and it has had an effect on all sports.
“I’m sorry to hear about the streak. I feel for them,” Ney added. “But they just have to start another one, that’s all.”
That is also Ellis’ approach to Palm Desert’s match Tuesday against La Quinta and the rest of the season.
“We were undefeated for 22 years,” Ellis said. “So I guess I’ll have to go undefeated for another 22 years and coach until I’m 45.”