By Brian Stanley
Led by a quartet of seniors, Santa Ynez Pirates girls golf has been raiding local fairways and capturing wins under the direction of new head coach Sara Ovadia.
“I have four seniors on that starting lineup right now and they have been playing really well,” said Ovadia, a former LPGA professional golfer. “It’s really fun because I’ve coached them since they were freshman.”
Before becoming head coach, Ovadia was a volunteer assistant coach.
Leading the charge for the Pirates are seniors Marina Vengel and Morgan Blunt. Through the first 14 matchups on the links the two Santa Ynez seniors have been neck-and-neck in scoring, combining for seven low score medalist finishes. Vengal has collected four as Blunt captured three.
“This year (Vengel and Blunt) have been in a really friendly competition for that number one spot and it only makes the team better. On the course they compete but they are also really good friends,” Ovadia said.
In her four low-score finishes, Vengal posted scores of 45 in wins over Cabrillo (242-257) and Nipomo (242-299) in a three-way tournament. Vengal then matched the 45 score twice more against Channel League opponents Dos Pueblos (248-300) and Lompoc (270-320).
Vengal’s performances against the Chargers and Braves earned her the Northern Santa Barbara County Athletic Round Table Female Athlete of the Week honors on Sept. 30.
“That’s really special, a very special accomplishment to be named athlete of the week,” Ovadia said. “It’s a big confidence booster for Marina.”
Blunt, winner of the NSBCART Female Athlete of the Week award in August 2018, says Vengal’s honor helps raise the morale of the Pirates because golf is a mental sport.
“It’s great overall for the whole team because it will increase our confidence and that’s very important,” Blunt said.
The Pirates average a team score of 252 while out-shooting their opponents by an average of 14 shots, earning a midseason record of 11-3, 5-1 in the Channel League as of Oct. 3. In that Oct. 3 matchup, Santa Ynez beat the San Marcos Royals, 259-263, for the second time this season.
In a non-league meeting against the Nordoff Rangers, Santa Ynez posted a season-low team score of 224 to win by six strokes at Soule Park Golf Course in Ojai. Blunt held the all-round low score against the Rangers with 41.
“Overall scoring wise we are super consistent. Almost anybody on the team can be the low scorer and almost anyone can be the high scorer on any given day,” Ovadia said. “Having them all be in the same range, it really helps push them forward and having that competition amongst themselves helps them play a lot better.”
Senior Caelyn Linane posted a score of 45 in the win over Nordoff, a personal best this season. The final senior member of girls’ golf is Ryann Melville, also hitting a season best 48 against the Rangers.
Santa Ynez came out clubs swinging, starting the season with three consecutive wins over the Orcutt Academy Spartans (256-274), St. Joseph Knights (258-281) and edged out the Righetti Warriors in the tightest scoring matchup of the year (259-261). The Pirates then faced two tough losses to the Arroyo Grande Eagles (228-246) and San Luis Obispo Tigers (248-257) before jumping back on the winning track.
The Pirates drove for a 6-game win streak that extended into Channel League action. Santa Ynez opened league with its wins over San Marcos (260-285), Cabrillo (255-279), Dos Pueblos and Lompoc.
Junior Bridget Callaghan, the third Callaghan sister to play for the Pirates in recent years, matched Blunt for a team best 48 in the victory over the Royals on Sept. 16.
Setting undefeated in league at 4-0 the matchup was set against the formidable Santa Barbara Dons. Blunt posted the low team score of 48 against the Dons at River Course at Alisal but Santa Ynez couldn’t keep pace with Santa Barbara in the 235-257 defeat. The loss snapped the Pirates 6-game win streak.
“I’m feeling very confident for our outcome,” Blunt said about the Pirates finish in the Channel League. “I see some difficulties against Santa Barbara, obviously since we played them. I think if we play our best though we can have a shot.”
The Pirates continue Channel League play this week, hosting Lompoc Oct. 15 at the River Course then heading south on Oct. 17 to battle Santa Barbara at the Santa Barbara Golf Club.
“There’s a chance at Muni,” Ovadia said about Santa Ynez’s season finale against Santa Barbara. “If we all have career days, we can give Santa Barbara a run for their money. That’s what I’m trying to amp the kids up towards.”
Santa Ynez will close the regular season out in the Channel League Tournament on Oct. 21-22, hosted by Cabrillo at The Mission Club.
Ovadia joined Santa Ynez’s girls golf coaching staff as an assistant volunteer in 2013 under then head coach Ashley Coelho.
“Coelho and I the last few years, and our other assistant coach John Nicholas, we had put a system in place, so I think that’s why I was selected,” Ovadia said. “Coelho knew I bought into the way we have been doing things and we’ve had success with it.”
When Coelho stepped down as head coach of the team to accept the Pirates athletic director position over the summer, Ovadia was chosen to lead the team this season.
“She was our assistant coach as well for a few years, so it was a really nice transition,” Blunt said. “She’s a great coach.”
Ovadia was competing professionally in the LPGA for three years before joining the girls golf coach staff as a volunteer. An Ivy League graduate of Columbia University, Ovadia joined the professional ranks in 2009 and competed on the LPGA’s Symetra Tour, Cactus Tour and Canadian Tour.
“It means a lot to me though that I got to take over,” Ovadia said. “I really enjoy helping the kids. Being a part of team golf, that was always my favorite, was playing in high school and being part of a team in college. It’s a lot more fun to play golf on a team.”