The pale-colored Bellarmine Prep girls golf bus is both a sanctuary and creative artist’s haven this time of year.
It is the week of the state championships. Lately, that has meant the Lions’ week to defend their crown.
The girls enjoy decorating the team bus headed to Vancouver, Washington, scribbling catchy slogans and coloring it in school colors.
Once aboard, longtime coach Mark Bender opens the floor for his golfers to say anything they want — about their season, about their teammates and even about their upcoming competition.
“We are goal setters,” Bender said. “And inside that bus, I tell them, ‘You can tell me anything you want.’ But once they get off that bus, they better be cordial and humble. They get that. They totally understand that the game is about being humble.”
For the past four seasons, Bellarmine Prep has emerged as the Class 4A team champion — starting with its 851/2-80 victory over Lewis and Clark High School of Spokane in 2010.
Each year, the gap has widened. The Lions upended Central Kitsap, 127-85, the following year. And in 2012, they beat Lewis and Clark again — this time 172-121.5.
The 172 points were the second-most ever scored in 4A. Kamiak tallied 174 in winning the 2007 state title.
And last season, in a driving rainstorm, Bellarmine Prep won again — 168-921/2 over Kentwood.
The reign likely will continue this week at Club Green Meadows in Vancouver.
The Lions are bringing six golfers — five who qualified directly through the Narrows League tournament (2012 state champion Alivia Brown, 2013 state runner-up Olivia Benzin, Lilly Navarre, Lindsey Gullikson, Tessa George) and a final one who was the West Central District medalist (Lisa Zelasko).
“It’s not difficult to play for this team,” Benzin said. “You have individual goals ... but we all pull for each other. It is fun. Everyone pushes each other on the team, and it’s competitive.
“This is one of the best years we’ve had where everyone gets along.”
Here is what Bender shared about each state-bound golfer:
• Brown, a senior and Washington State University signee: “No emotion. Calm, casual. Perfectionist.”
• Benzin, a junior and an Oregon State commit: “As determined as anybody I’ve ever had. She never wants to be second.”
• Navarre, a junior and the longest hitter on the team: “Pure, natural talent. All the girls want to have a driving contest with her.”
• Gullikson, a senior and UC Irvine signee: “Very driven. A technician.”
• George, a sophomore: “Carefree and simple, and she has the best short game of any on the team.”
• Zelasko, a senior and Saint Martin’s signee: “Relentless. She went the hard route (to state) this year.”
Even with two standouts — Brown and Benzin’s stroke averages in matches and tournaments this spring were right around par — Bender has made sure to emphasize this is a team-first program.
“I pound it into them, ‘We play as individuals, but we play as a team.’ You can’t win a state championship as an individual in the WIAA (tournament),” Bender said. “They only give the trophy to the team.”
That is not to say he does not encourage his golfers to play with flair, passion and personality.
Brown is the easy-going star, always whistling or singing songs in her head during the round. One week, it was Christmas tunes. The next week, it was Justin Bieber — or even her father’s favorite band, Boston.
“Old stuff,” the future WSU Cougar said.
Benzin is the fiery introvert. Navarre is the team jokester. Gullikson seems to have taken on most of the leadership role.
“It really is all about the team,” Benzin said. “It’s great. It’s fun. It will be great looking back when I am older and seeing all the state championships. If I can appreciate them now, when I am older it will still be pretty neat.”
WIAA STATE BOYS AND GIRLS GOLF TOURNAMENTS
Class 4A boys at Camas Meadows Golf Club, Camas.
Class 4A girls at Club Green Meadows, Vancouver.
Class 3A boys at Tri-Mountain Golf Course, Ridgefield.
Class 3A girls at Lewis River Golf Course, Woodland.
Class 2A boys at Chambers Bay, University Place.
Class 2A girls at The Classic Golf Club, Spanaway.
Class 1A boys and girls at Lake Spanaway Golf Course.
Class 1B/2B boys and girls at RMG Club at Oakbrook, Lakewood.
Defending boys team champions: 4A—Eastlake. 3A—Interlake. 2A—Hockinson. 1A—Ilwaco. 1B/2B—DeSales.
Defending girls team champions: 4A—Bellarmine Prep. 3A—Hanford. 2A—Bellingham. 1A—Woodland. 1B/2B—Bear Creek.
Returning individual champions: 4A boys—Brian Humphreys, Camas, so.; 3A boys—Frank Garber, Juanita, sr.; 2A boys—Aaron Whalen, Ephrata, jr.; 4A girls—Sierra Kersten, Lewis and Clark, jr.; 1A girls—Bree Wanderscheid, Goldendale, sr.
Skinny: If there’s one thing the fields of all these tournaments don’t want to see, it is the chill and heavy rainfall of a year ago, which adversely affected scores. Humphreys will certainly have a home-course advantage and is vying to become the first 4A repeat boys champion since Kamiakin’s Chris Johnson. Garber, a University of Washington signee, is by consensus the top golfer in the state. And he has a chance at history this week — becoming the only person to win three 3A boys golf titles. A pair of former PGA Tour regulars — O’Dea’s Fred Couples (1976-77) and Chimacum’s Mark Wurtz (1980-81) — also won two 3A championships. A couple of boys teams are on quite a roll. Interlake had won two consecutive 2A crowns, then moved up to 3A last season and won that as well. Ilwaco has captured the past four 1A titles. Can anyone dethrone the Bellarmine Prep girls? With six golfers in the 4A girls tournament, the four-time defending champions are primed to win No. 5. And 2012 state champion Alivia Brown (Washington State University signee) and last year’s state runner-up, Olivia Benzin (Oregon State commit) are on the short list of individual favorites. A repeat 4A girls champion does not happen too often — but Kersten has that opportunity this week. The last girl to do that was Chessey Thomas (2009-10), who came from Kersten’s own school — Lewis and Clark. Before that, it had been 10 years. Wanderscheid is gunning for her third consecutive 1A girls title. She has signed at WSU.
Tee times: Generally, the tee times run from 7 a.m. until 1 p.m. on the first day (for specific times, check bit.ly/1jp4YfR) — with the top seeds teeing off first. After the cut, the final-round schedule usually is shortened an hour.
Tickets: Admission is free.Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 todd.milles@ thenewstribune.com Todd Milles, staff writer