By James Burns, Modesto Bee
MODESTO, Calif. - The Modesto Junior College women’s golf program is no stranger to success.
In the last decade, the Pirates have been regular entrants at the California Community College Athletic Association state championship.
Under coaches Milan Motroni and Dana Ebster, Modesto Junior College, a program powered by local talent, has qualified for the two-day state championship in five of the last six years.
They’ve never finished better than fourth, though, finishes that haunt Motroni.
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How does “No. 1” sound?
Relying on their experience and balance, the Pirates stunned the eight-team field at Morro Bay Golf Course, becoming the first women’s team in school history to win a state title.
Modesto Junior College carded a two-day total of 633, edging Big 8 Conference rival and defending state champion Sierra College of Rocklin (637). Santa Barbara City College (641) was third.
Sierra’s Nao Bando was the medalist with a 3-under 141.
“The journey with these girls, I always knew they had it in them,” Motroni said. “Consistently, all season long, we were finishing second and third at everything. The words of the day between myself and my assistant coach were ‘patience’ and ‘trust.’
“Everything came together at the state championship. It was two days worth of golf and you have to be focused to finish on top.”
The Pirates had finished second to Sierra at the conference and Northern California tournaments. At each event, MJC had to rally into second position on the final day.
“We’ve had a good rivalry over the years,” Motroni said. “Three or four years ago, Sierra was behind us. It’s been back and forth over the years. After the last conference tournament, the girls were on an upswing. They were all shooting well together. Usually, you’ll have a few girls shooting well and the others not so well. For all of them to play well at once, that really helped.”
Sophomore Janita Vongphoumy carried the torch for Modesto Junior College. The Central Valley High product shot 74-75 for a team-best 149.
Sophomore Brooke Vierra of Turlock High (80-77) and freshman Alyse Padilla of Enochs (80-77) shot matching 157s, while sophomore Shawna Ratto of Ripon High (82-88) rounded out the scoring with a 170.
Brianna Youngman of Turlock (90-90) and Kylie Takata (91-96) also competed, but only the top-four scores counted toward the team score.
With five sophomores, Motroni said experience played a major role in the Pirates’ history-making feat. The players fed off another, especially in the postseason, and turned in their most complete performance at Morro Bay, a course they were familiar with.
Modesto Junior College played the par-72 track during a preseason tournament and spent extra time on the putting green before state.
Between practice and tournament play, Motroni said her team had at least eight rounds to build a book on Morro Bay.
“These girls came together all at once as a team and finished on top,” Motroni said. “We’ve had some good teams throughout the years, but this one pushed forth and really worked together. It all came to fruition.”
The future is bright, too.
Motroni has surveyed the local high school golf scene. She is confident she can replace the five sophomores and make another run at state.
“There are some local recruits that we have been in contact with. They definitely have the potential to bring us back to state,” Motroni said. “Every year is different, but we’ve been lucky that there is a lot of local talent that we can choose from.”
MJC Athletic Director Nick Stavrianoudakis is excited by the ripple effect created by women’s golf and football. The strides those two programs have made in the last few years, he says, has infused the department with confidence.
Last fall, the football team won its first outright title in a Tier 1 league since 1980, advancing to a Northern California semifinal for the first time in school history. It followed that milestone with a 74-41 victory over Diablo Valley College in Saturday’s Gridiron Classic.
“It elevates MJC’s presence in the community college athletic world,” Stavrianoudakis said. “We typically have a lot of good teams. In recent history – not just with the women’s golf team but also with football – when we get into the playoffs or these championship settings, we’re not intimidated anymore. They feel they can compete with any team, and they’re showing it and proving it.”