Golf talent transfers home

Olympia High graduate leaves the UW to find rhythm with Saint Martin’s in Lacey

mwochnick@theolympian.comApril 2, 2014 

Saint Martin’s University women’s golf coach Bob Grisham found out rather quickly just what type of golfer he was getting in transfer Jennifer Liedes.

Sure, Grisham already knew Liedes was gifted. She played her freshman year at the University of Washington.

But golf’s a finicky sport; physical talent alone can get you only so far on the links.

It was in Hawaii in October at the Dennis Rose Invitational that Liedes’ gumption was on full display.

The lion’s share of the 54-hole, two-day tournament occurs on the first day — 36 holes taking approximately seven hours to complete.

“By the end, not just physical, but mental fatigue has set in,” Grisham said. “You’re just looking to finish.”

While others faded down the stretch, Liedes remained zeroed in, focused on the task at hand.

“Last hole, par 4, she has a fantastic drive, gets on the green with her next shot and sinks a 4-footer for a birdie,” Grisham said. “That was impressive. You can’t coach that. You either have it or you don’t.”

Liedes parlayed her strong first day to earn a runner-up finish at the tournament, helping the Saints open the season with three consecutive top-five finishes.

The sophomore hasn’t slowed down since as she opened SMU’s spring portion of its season earlier this month by notching her third consecutive top-10 finish with an eighth-place showing at the Tim Tierney Pioneer Shootout in Vallejo, Calif.

By comparison, as a team last year, the Saints only managed two top-five tournament finishes during their first 10 events of the season before posting a second-place finish at the Great Northwest Athletic Conference tournament.

A graduate of Olympia High School, Liedes has described her childhood as “growing up on a country club.”

Her father, Keith, was the longtime professional at the Grays Harbor Country Club.

“It seemed like I was always following him around on the golf course,” said Liedes, whose father played collegiately at the UW and Western Washington University. “I was interested in the sport for as long as I can remember, but it was never pushed on me. I was always the one asking if we could go out and play golf.”

Unlike many young golfers, Liedes’ participation in junior tournaments was sporadic. Her introduction to the sport was basically her puttering around the Aberdeen course with her father, constantly picking his brain on how to improve her game.

“I think that’s why I never got burned out on the sport,” Liedes said. “There was never any pressure. It was mostly just playing with my dad.”

The approach proved to be highly successful as Liedes spent all four high school years playing varsity, earning all-league honors her final three seasons.

Her play quickly drew the attention of several schools before she ultimately selected her father’s alma mater — the University of Washington.

Liedes competed during her freshman year for the Huskies, but a switch in majors — she went from biology to business and marketing — had her thinking about transferring by the end of the school year.

Liedes remained a student at UW, being named to the dean’s list in both the winter and spring quarters of 2013, but elected to not play golf for the Huskies.

“I knew wherever I transferred to I wanted to play three years,” Liedes said. “I wanted to have that experience and be part of a program. I wanted it to be more than two years.”

She enrolled in the fall at SMU, and despite her year hiatus from collegiate play, she hasn’t missed a beat on the golf course.

“She’s the type of player that every time she steps out there she has the potential to win the tournament,” Grisham said. “She has such a great upside. Her work ethic, her positive attitude, it can’t help but rub off on the team.”

With the addition of Liedes, the Saints seem poised for a handful of successful years; the seven-member squad features just one senior in Mandy Wittmier; four sophomores, including Timberline grad Ally Redifer and Bellarmine Prep grad Gracie Dyer; and two freshmen.

“It was a weird transition going from Washington to a smaller school,” Liedes said. “There are more opportunities academically for me here. The team is really close with each other. When we’re playing, there doesn’t even seem to be any pressure because everyone gets along too well. It’s been really … a great fit.”

LOCAL COLLEGES SPRING SPORTS CAPSULES

Saint Martin’s University Saints

BASEBALL

Coach: Ken Garland (sixth season)

Last season: 9-39 overall (7-24 GNAC, fifth place)

Current record: 8-21 overall (5-11 GNAC)

Top players: C Chandler Tracy, jr.; INF Travis Shaw, jr.; 1B Spencer Dodd, sr.; OF Alex Bielaski, sr.

Outlook: That youth from a season ago is no more; the Saints have 16 juniors and seniors, including 16 returning letter winners. SMU was picked to finish tied for fourth in the five-team GNAC baseball race with an offense led by Shaw and Tracy, who ranked second and third, respectively, in batting average in 2013. Through 29 games, Bielaski is hitting .379 followed by Shaw (.357) and Tracy (.337). Thursday and Friday’s four-game series with Northwest Nazarene is the Saints’ second-to-last home GNAC series of the season. The Crusaders took 3-of-4 from the Saints in Nampa, Idaho, Feb. 28 and March 1.

SOFTBALL

Coach: Rick Noren (fourth season)

Last season: 41-16 overall (18-6 GNAC, first place)

Current record: 15-13 overall (9-4 GNAC)

Top players: P/SS Sam Munger, jr.; 2B Lacey McGladrey, sr.; OF Taviah Jenkins, jr.; UT Dani Wall, jr.

Outlook: Who can forget the Saints’ record-setting season from a year ago — first NCAA appearance and first GNAC regular-season title as well as a school-record 41 victories. No surprise, the coaches picked the Saints to repeat as conference champions. More good news is McGladrey, the reigning GNAC Player of the Year, and Munger, the reigning GNAC Pitcher of the Year, are off to big starts. So is Jenkins, who leads the Saints with a .393 batting average and her 33 RBIs already surpasses her total from 2013 (32). While their 15-13 record isn’t too flashy right now, the Saints took two games from Montana State-Billings last weekend.

TRACK AND FIELD

Coach: Jim Brewer (first season)

Last season: Men — sixth place at GNAC championships; women — ninth place at GNAC championships

Top athletes: Men — Joe Berger, distance, sr.; Frank Krause, distance, jr; Joey Keeton, pole vault, jr.; David Durden, multi-events, fr. Women — Kalli Walker, throws, fr.; Renee Hudson, sprints/hurdles, so.; Irene Moore, multi-events, jr.

Outlook: Walker, a Northwest Christian graduate, already has an NCAA provisional mark in the javelin, becoming the first Saints athlete in indoors or outdoors to have a national-qualifying mark. Durden, a Tumwater graduate, already has the Saints’ top times in four races as a decathlete: 100 meters (11.53 seconds), 200 (23.34), 400 (51.92) and 110 hurdles (16.01).

GOLF

Coaches: Kevin Bishop (men); Bob Grisham (women)

Last season: Men — second at GNAC championships; women — second at GNAC championships

Top athletes: Men — Ryan Pickthorn, so.; Ben Fosnick, jr. Women — Jennifer Liedes, so.; Mandy Wittmier, sr.

Outlook: Both squads head into their spring seasons with the GNAC championships set for April 21-22 at the Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) Resort. Liedes is the Saints’ only golfer with a sub-80 average (78.4). Wittmier, who placed fifth at the GNACs a year ago, sits at an 80.4 average this season. Pickthorn leads the SMU men with a 75.3 average, followed by three teammates — Ben Fosnick, Ryan Baumgart and Patrick Whealdon — who range from 76.3 to 76.6.

The Evergreen State College Geoducks

TRACK AND FIELD

Coach: Chris Ertman (second season)

Last season: Men — five participants at Cascade Conference championships; women — no participants at Cascade Conference championships.

Top athletes: Men — Anthony Johnson, high jump, so.; Les Jones, middle distance, jr.; Wes Jones, middle distance, so.; Aaron Jones, middle distance, jr.; Zephyr Forest, hurdles, sr. Women — Bri Castilleja, fr.; Courtney Conaway, soph.

Outlook: Johnson, a transfer from Pima (Ariz.) Community College, is an All-American after his fifth-place finish at the NAIA Indoor Championships in early March and already has qualified for the NAIA national outdoor championships with an outdoor season best jump of 6-feet, 10.75 inches. The Seattle native set a school-record jump of 7-2.25, at the University of Washington indoor meet earlier this year, which earned him a trip to the USA Track and Field Indoor Championships. Johnson isn’t the only Geoduck with nationals experience. Brothers Les and Wes Jones also competed at the national indoor championships.

South Puget Sound Community College Clippers

SOFTBALL

Coach: Shannon Stine (third season)

Last season: 3-24 overall (3-17 NWAACC West, sixth place)

Current record: 0-10 overall

Top players: C Jordanne Krumpols, so.; SS Celena Edwards, so.; P Amanda Rupright, so.

Outlook: The Clippers’ roster is thin with 12 players, but features a heavy South Sound flavor. While they’re still searching for their first win of 2014, two players — Rupright and Liz Smith — are hitting better than .370. The team batting average sits at .225.

mwochnick@theolympian.com

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