The multiple scoreboards at The Meadows Golf Course in Allendale, Mich., make it seem like a course fit for the PGA Tour. The banquets and gifts for student-athletes add a special touch.
“The NCAA really knows how to treat players right,” University of Hawaii at Hilo senior Corey Kozuma said. “It’s nice that a small school from Hawaii can get here.”
The Vulcans have enjoyed the fruits of their labor, and now it’s time to get down to the business of deciding a national champion. UH-Hilo returns to the Division II finals for the first time in three years riding a nothing-to-lose mantra.
“This is our gravy,” coach Earl Tamiya said. “If we make the top eight teams, that would be outstanding.”
The first round tees off today with 20 teams playing 54 holes for spots in the quarterfinals.
This was veteran coach Tamiya’s first trip to Michigan, and though it’s been cold and rainy, in one respect The Meadows reminds him of Waikoloa Kings’ Resort.
When UH-Hilo faces Division I teams at Waikoloa, Tamiya prays for heavy wind to even out the field. He said The Meadows has been inundated by rain recently, leaving the rough high, which could prove to be an equalizer.
“I think so,” Tamiya said. “I like the course being tough. We have a better chance than if the course were (easy). When the course is easy, the better teams will light it up, but this is really tough.”
Kozuma, senior Chris Shimomura and junior Dalen Yamauchi all consistently stayed out of trouble — save for one bad round by Yamauchi — when the Vulcans qualified for NCAAs at a super regional in Texas. Shimomura finished at 1-over in third place and Kozuma was another shot back as UH-Hilo carded rounds of 300, 299 and 295.
Anticipating tougher scoring conditions this week, Tamiya and Kozuma both predicted 300s could put UH-Hilo in contention.
“There is an emphasis here on hitting the fairways,” Kozuma said. “With the wind, cold and rough, you play with endurance, grind, buckle down and focus the best you can.”
Sophomore Kyeton Littel was the Vulcans’ second-best scorer when UH-Hilo won the Pacific West Conference title a month ago, but he and senior Christian Agosto struggled at regionals. Littel’s lowest round was a 76, while Agosto’s best score was a 79.
“We never know,” Tamiya said. “We just tell them to go out and have fun.”
Like many teams in the field, the Vulcans have their share of championship experience.
Yamauchi played last year after qualifying as an individual, while Kozuma and Shimomura were freshman on UH-Hilo’s 2011 NCAA team.
Despite losing a slew of players to Division I schools along the way, Kozuma is proud the Vulcans are back.
“We had a great bunch of guys and it definitely set us back losing guys to D-I programs,” Kozuma said. “But I stand by my decision to stay all four years.
“I think the program has really done well for (itself). I think we’ve shown that with work ethic we can make it this far. Even though we’re a small school, we can still pack a punch.”
Waiakea graduate Ciera Min closed with a 3-under 69 and placed second behind runaway winner Mariel Galdiano at the Jennie K Wilson Invitational in Kailua, Oahu.
Picking up after 68 on Saturday, Min finished at 3-under 213, seven shots back of Galdiano, the two-time Hawaii High School Athletic Association champion from Punahou.