For the Oregon Tech women’s golf team, the challenge is straightforward — beat the defending national champions.
For the men, it is beat the defending conference champions while, at the same time, holding off two or three expected challengers in the return to the NAIA national tournament.
“Our women are coming back ranked No. 10, and I think we might be a little stronger than we were last year,” veteran head coach Jeff Corkill says of the Hustlin’ Owls. “We have better depth, and we have a freshman, Maiya Baker, who has mixed it up with our top girls, and definitely will help us.
“Going No. 1 through No. 6, this is easily the best time I’ve ever had here. I’m excited to see what we can do over the long haul with the women’s team.”
The biggest hurdle the women face is the defending national champions from the University of British Columbia. The Thunderbirds are the preseason pick in both the Cascade Collegiate Conference and NAIA national polls.
“They won it all last year and only lost one girl,” Corkill said. “They might be slightly better than us, but are fragile because they only have five players on the roster. Still, they will be tough to beat.”
Senior Stephanie Koza returns for OIT, one of seven players who return this season. Baker is the lone freshman on the women’s team.
Tech will get its first look at British Columbia toward the end of the month when the Hustlin’ Owls play in the UBC tournament, which will be hosted at the Sudden Valley Golf Club in Bellingham, Wash.
UBC and OIT are the only Cascade Collegiate Conference teams in the national preseason top 25, but Corban is among the teams to receive votes. There are several other West Coast teams in the poll, including Embry-Riddle and Ottawa of Arizona, Lewis-Clark State and Rocky Mountain.
Tech’s men are in a similar situation.
British Columbia is ranked No. 6, and OIT No. 22, with Northwest Christian also having received votes.
“We are down a little right now, but we do return Mayson Tibbs, who was an All-American last year,” Corkill says of the men’s team. “He had a really good summer and played at a high level and should rank among the top players in the nation coming back.”
Boosting OIT’s hopes, though, is the fact that all of the men who played in the national championships last season return.
“I’m looking to see the guys get into a groove,” Corkill said. “We will have to play better to hang on to the national ranking, and improve.”
Cameron Barnhardt, Kyle Wolf and Jared McBride all worked on their games over the summer.
“We picked up Preston Luckman and have high hopes for him, and have a top new prospect in Michael Gray,” Corkill said.
Gray and Tyler Mulligan are the lone freshmen on a team the coach called top-heavy with juniors and seniors.
“UBC will be good. Corban and Northwest Christian should be solid. We should be playing better than we are, but if we stay above (Corban and NCU), we should keep our ranking.”
Tech fans will get a chance to see the Hustlin’ Owls Oct. 7-8 when OIT hosts its annual fall invitational tournament at the Running Y. Tech will begin the spring portion of its season March 8-9 with its own tournament, which will be played in Eagle Point.