An eloquent golf game and a desire to improve her command of the English language brought Carolin Chang to Santa Barbara for the 2015-16 school year. She was a welcome addition to the SBCC women’s golf team, winners of three state community college championship trophies.
“We have a hard time finding women who can shoot in the 70s,” Vaqueros coach Chuck Melendez said. Those were Chang’s credentials at the IMG Academy in Florida. “A guy there put her in contact with me,” Melendez said. “I invited her out. She visited and loved it.”
Although rules prevented him from putting her through a tryout, it was a no-brainer for Melendez to put Chang on the team. She is a native of Taiwan, where golf is a sporting passion (former world No. 1 Yani Tseng hails from that country).
Chang could hardly have done any better in her two seasons with the Vaqueros. She won the individual state championship a year ago and led Santa Barbara City College to its fourth team title. And last Monday, at the Morro Bay Golf Course, she repeated as champion by rallying from a four-stroke deficit in the final round.
Sierra College claimed the team title, while Chang dueled Sierra’s Nao Bando for individual honors. Both players finished with identical scores of 72-69–141. The tiebreaker was each player’s card over the last nine holes of the 36-hole tournament. Chang’s three-under-par 34 crowned her as the medalist.
It was a triumphant end to her SBCC career. “I was 10 shots better than last year,” said Chang, who posted a 151 on the same course in 2015. She had to do much better against Bando, the North Regional champion. Chang drew even on Monday with a par at No. 17, while the Sierra star bogeyed the hole.
The 18th hole was a bit of an adventure. Chang’s drive settled under a tree. Melendez said, “It was really foggy, and I told Carolin she better take a good look at her next shot.” Chang knew what to do. “I’d been under the tree before,” she said. “I am always behind this tree. I know it is 140 yards to the hole. That’s usually an eight-iron, but I used an easy six to hit a low draw.”
The approach shot rolled to the back edge of the green, from where Chang two-putted for a par that matched Bando’s and sealed her second title, as many as a two-year college athlete can win.
“Carolin is the best player I’ve ever had, and I’ve had some really good ones,” said Melendez, working his 17th year as both women’s and men’s golf coach at SBCC. “She’s a hard worker and has a great personality. If I had a daughter, I’d want one like her.”
Despite Chang’s efforts, the Vaqueros settled for second place after Sierra’s top foursome scored 295 in the final round. With Vanessa Watkins shooting a final-round 77, SBCC finished with a two-day total of 621, eight strokes behind Sierra. By outscoring the other six teams, SBCC boosted its season record to an extraordinary 99-1 in all tournaments.
Chang, the medalist in 18 events as a Vaquero, will leave with fluency in English and continue to play golf and study business at Cal State East Bay. She may eventually take a shot at the pro tour. “I built a lot of confidence here,” she said. “I was playing bad before I came to the U.S. I trust my mental game now. I learned not to worry if I’m behind or if the team is behind. It makes me more aggressive the second day.”
ROLE MODEL: When she watched videos of Heather O’Reilly, swooping down the flank of the soccer pitch with her eyes focused and her cheeks puffing, Paige Ingram identified with the longtime U.S. national player. “She was super athletic, super fast,” said Ingram, a 13-year-old player with the Santa Barbara Soccer Club (SBSC). “She was very intense in her mentality about the game; I’m known to be a very intense person. We had that in common, so I thought that was super cool. I told my mom about her.”
Rebecca Ingram found an email address for O’Reilly and connected her daughter with the soccer star. “I thought it was so crazy she was reaching out to me,” Paige said. “She sent me a Merry Christmas picture two years ago.”
Many emails later — “like hundreds,” Paige said — O’Reilly strode into San Marcos High’s Warkentin Stadium last Friday to spend a couple of hours conversing and playing soccer with 200 players and prospects for SBSC’s girls’ teams. “This is the first time I’ve met her,” Paige said. “She’s so amazing. I’m shaking. I’m so happy I met her.”
O’Reilly retired from international soccer in September after garnering many accolades in 15 years and 231 appearances with the U.S. team. She still plays for FC Kansas City in the National Women’s Soccer League. “I feel good,” she said on Friday. “I still love the sport.”
It impressed onlookers that O’Reilly related so well to the girls. “She was so grounded and humble,” Rebecca Ingram said. “She was running around with the youngest kids.”
GAME OF THE WEEK
11/19: College Football: Beach Bowl — Moorpark at Santa Barbara City College Everybody raves about the scenery surrounding the Rose Bowl, but there may be no better backdrop to a game than the seashore next to SBCC’s home field. The Vaqueros will host a community college bowl game for the first time in 33 years. They went 7-3 on the season, finishing runner-up in the American Pacific League after a 47-35 loss to unbeaten L.A. Valley. Moorpark’s Raiders (5-5) piled up more than 800 yards of offense in a 65-22 thrashing of Santa Monica last week. Both teams will try to establish the running game on Saturday, featuring Cedric Cooper of SBCC and Isaiah Johnson of Moorpark (10 TDs each). 1pm. La Playa Stadium, Loma Alta and Shoreline drives. $8-$12. Call 965-0581 or visit sbccvaqueros.com.
S.B. ATHLETIC ROUND TABLE ATHLETES OF THE WEEK
Kendra Carr, SBCC water polo
The sophomore had 14 goals and seven steals in three games, leading the Vaqueros to the Southern Cal Regional title. They will take a 32-1 record into the State Championships this weekend in Livermore.
Cyrus Wallace, Dos Pueblos football
The junior caught 17 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns in the Chargers’ 29-16 victory over Mission Prep, their first play-off win since 2001. They will travel on Friday to St. Anthony in Long Beach.