Empire trio doing well at collegiate level


Finding success in the college game, a trio of Empire prep golfers moved up leaderboards in women’s play this season.
Playing No. 2 for Cal State Monterey Bay is Courtney Soekland, the region’s top girls’ golfer three seasons ago at Santa Rosa High.

Brooke Dagner

The Otters reached the NCAA Div. II West Super Regional earlier this month.

Two-time Empire player of the year Lisa Copeland, Middletown High, was low scorer for CSU San Marcos and finished ninth overall at the Association of Independent Institutions tournament, just shy of qualifying for this season’s NAIA National Championships.

After sharing All-Empire honors with Copeland a year ago, Brooke Dagner, out of Sonoma Valley High, enjoyed a successful first season at Lewis-Clark State College, a NAIA school in Idaho. Dagner was second on the Warriors’ squad and played her best at the Frontier Conference tournament in April.

Playing with some of the best small college golfers has been the trio’s reward for sharpening their games and becoming mentally stronger.

“Every year I’ve improved. That’s the plan,” said Soekland, who wants to win some tournaments as a senior. “I was right there this season.”

Lisa Copeland

Driving balls farther off the tee was a big area of improvement for Soekland this season. Weight training and team running helped.

“I’m getting stronger and able to compete more with the other girls. I’ve always had a good short game. So it’s a little easier to score,” she said.

Shooting a 75 on average, Soekland lowered her score by three strokes. Her best round was a 3 under par 69 at the Tarleton State invitational, in Granbury, Texas.

Because the California Collegiate Athletic Association doesn’t have women’s golf, CSU Monterey Bay and other league teams must travel great distances to many tournament. Their destinations included events in Washington, Michigan, Arizona and Texas. But the Otters have some great, world class home courses in their backyard.

“We get to play really nice courses,” Soekland said.

Making the transition to the college game this season were Copeland and Dagner.

“I think it’s a good start, but I definitely need to improve scoring next year,” said Copeland after a season as one of the Cougars best.

College competition hasn’t been any tougher than junior tournaments for Copeland, who doesn’t lack confidence to step up and hit shots with authority.

Learning to play team golf has been the biggest adjustment for Copeland. She played as an individual in high school because Middletown doesn’t have a girls’ team.

“Now I have people depending on me,” Copeland said. “I’m working on my mental game. I’m trying to just get to a point with myself where I feel comfortable and patient and be the person the team can depend on for those low scores.”

Playing in snow flurries and often at high altitudes has been the biggest change for Dagner.

Lewis-Clark State is in Lewiston, Idaho and the Frontier Conference also includes teams in Utah, Montana and Oregon.

“Playing in the cold weather was hard to get used to. Your hands would turn purple. I still played well,” Dagner said.

Playing at altitude means dialing in the length of shots, and Dagner’s accuracy improved during the season.

A stronger mental approach was Dagner’s greatest improvement. With teams playing two rounds on the first day of matches in the Frontier Conference, players must stay focused for some 10 hours.

“My first 36 holes I was exhausted at the end,” she said. “I finally was able to kind of get through it. Now 18 holes is like nothing.”

Earning second team all-Frontier honors, Dagner’s best round was a 78 in the conference tournament.

Next season’s goal is leading the Warriors back to the NAIA finals.