Season preview: Hosting nationals on the horizon for Cascades golf teams

Without a single golf ball yet struck or a single birdie yet made, the University of the Fraser Valley men’s and women’s golf teams can rest assured they’ll be participating in a historic season.

This weekend, the Cascades open the campaign with a tournament in Kelowna hosted by UBC Okanagan – the first of four PacWest conference events. Three weeks hence, they’ll host the fourth and final PacWest tourney at their home course, Chilliwack Golf Club.

Zach Olson and Hannah Dirksen will be among the key players for the Cascades golf teams this season.

Zach Olson and Hannah Dirksen will be among the key players for the Cascades golf program this season.

The conference championship is a big deal in its own right, but it’s just an appetizer for what’s to follow: the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association’s PING National Championships. UFV will be hosting the national tourney for the first time, Oct. 13-16 at Chilliwack Golf Club.

It’s tantalizing to think what kind of medal haul home course advantage might yield for the Cascades, who have done extremely well even when they’ve had to hit the road for nationals. UFV has recorded podium finishes at six of the last eight CCAA championships, highlighted by double-gold for the men’s and women’s teams in 2013. Last season, the women earned national silver and the men took bronze.

But head coach Chris Bertram won’t be caught looking too far ahead. It’s critical that his charges are ready to go this weekend in Kelowna.

“This weekend is really important, because our fall season is a real sprint,” he noted. “If we don’t get out of the gates fast, it’s very hard to get caught up. We always look at the first tournament as an important benchmark for us. It’s also the first time we get to see what the other teams are bringing to the table.

“Looking further down the road, with our conference championship being at our home course in Chilliwack, that’s a big plus for us. And then of course, we turn around the very next week and we’ve got the national championships here. It’s a lot of very exciting things on the horizon, and I think with the group of players we have, I think we should be competitive.”

On the men’s side, Bertram waved goodbye to Aaron Pauls, who represented Canada each of the last two summers at world university competitions. But UFV’s eight-player roster still has enough depth to cause the kind of headaches that coaches don’t mind having. It’s legitimately difficult for Bertram to settle on a five-man lineup in a given week.

The top three are relatively set. Connor O’Dell, a fourth-year golfer from Maple Ridge, finished second in last season’s PacWest individual standings, won the Kwantlen tournament, and was named a CCAA All-Canadian. Zach Olson of Strathmore, Alta. was right behind O’Dell in third place in the PacWest in 2014, and Chilliwack’s Connor McLellan is coming off a very promising rookie season.

Returning veterans Kaleb Fisher and Cody Stewart nabbed the last two spots in the lineup for this week’s UBCO event, but they’ll be pushed on a weekly basis by Harrison Clegg and rookies Nathan Bahnman and Ryan Graf.

“We’re lucky that we have quite a bit of depth to our lineup,” Bertram said. “One, two and three in our lineup, those spots are pretty well-established. But when you get down to four and five, you’ve got five players looking at those thinking they want them. They’ve got to compete with each other to earn the right to be one of those five.

“Everything for us builds towards nationals. I can tweak the lineup here and there and try some things out, but ultimately the goal is to have our best five ready to go, firing on all cylinders for nationals.”

On the women’s side, last season’s Cascades stars Jen Woods and Kelley Dalzell have moved on. Hannah Dirksen of Mission is the lone returnee, and Bertram believes she’s ready to handle the No. 1 role. She’ll be supported by newcomers Jennifer Kell and Ciara Melhus.

“Hannah’s game has really been coming around lately,” Bertram said. “She’s learned a lot from the experiences of last year, playing with the likes of Jen Woods.

“Jennifer and Ciara are both good young players and we will be looking for them to contribute behind Hannah. Either one of them has the talent to do it on any given day, and we are confident once they adjust to playing at this level that good things will follow.”

The Cascades have had dynastic success in the PacWest in recent years. The men are three-time defending conference champions, while the women have won two titles in a row.

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The University of the Fraser Valley is situated on the unceded traditional territory of the Stó:lō peoples. The Stó:lō have an intrinsic relationship with what they refer to as S’olh Temexw (Our Sacred Land); therefore, we express our gratitude and respect for the honour of living and working in this territory.

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