Morikawa drives La Cañada High golf to breakthrough season

Fresh off playing 18 holes at Soule Park Golf Club in the heart of Ojai in northern Ventura County, the members of the La Cañada High boys’ golf team quickly turned from athletes to mathematicians.

All six Spartans had stored their clubs into their bags before flocking to the scoreboard to find out if La Cañada would make program history following the conclusion of the CIF Southern Section Northern Team Divisional.

Along with his teammates, junior Collin Morikawa found himself on pins and needles while calculating the total scores for a handful of teams looking to advance at least one more round in the playoffs. With the results too close to project, Morikawa and the Spartans kept their fingers crossed.

Then, the Spartans received the news they had been yearning to hear: They had advanced to the CIF Individual and Southern California Qualifying Tournament at Mission Lakes Country Club in Desert Hot Springs for the first time after placing second in the competition and edging Thousand Oaks by one stroke.

“All we wanted was a top-two finish so we could get to the next round,” said Morikawa, who carded an even–par 72 to help the Spartans finish at 375 in the 20-team event. “We were double-checking all the scores, not just for our team, but to make sure we knew where many of the other teams looking to also advance had finished.

“There were so many great players and teams up there. When we saw that we had finished second behind Westlake (362), we were all so relieved. It was a very special time.”

Once again, Morikawa enjoyed another spectacular season. He captured his third straight Rio Hondo League individual championship, helped the Spartans win the league title and earned medalist honors in 11 matches. Morikawa's season ended once again with him earning the 2014 All-Area Boys' Golfer of the Year accolade, as voted by the sportswriters of the Burbank Leader, Glendale News-Press and La Cañada Valley Sun. The Spartans have swept the award the past six seasons with Morikawa being the only underclassmen in that span.

Though La Cañada saw its season conclude at the qualifying tournament — it finished tied for sixth with Diamond Bar at 380 and one stroke off the two-way fourth-place tie at 379 between Oaks Christian and Beckman — it would be one that Morikawa said he won’t forget.

“Even though we couldn’t advance past the second round, I felt like this was just an amazing team and we had so many great experiences,” said Morikawa, who registered a four-over-par 75 at Mission Lakes to finish second for the Spartans behind Joshua Suh (69). “We were able to finally get past that first stage after a couple of tries and we learned that every shot does count, as we found out in both rounds.

“We got a lot of things done, like winning the league title and we could always put a great lineup out there. We always had a chance to be successful.”

In addition to Morikawa, the Spartans featured a talented and deep lineup that consisted of the Columbia University-bound Suh, Robby Stehlin, Colin Kreditor, Adam Horne and Sam Bernstein. Under first-year coach Rich Wheeler, the Spartans geared up for their historic season playing a handful of powerhouses such as St. Francis, Loyola, Arcadia, Westlake and Hart. The Spartans also won tournaments in Burbank and Oak Park, giving them an added edge to their game.

The competitive schedule played a large factor in the Spartans’ success.

“Playing a lot of great teams and seeing other teams in tournaments gave us a much better idea where we stood,” Morikawa said. “By playing teams like Loyola, we proved that we could do well.

“Everything just seemed to come together, mostly because we supported each other. The goals coming into the season were the same. We wanted to win league again and get past the first stage of the playoffs.”

Wheeler said the Spartans had the personnel to enjoy a breakthrough season with Morikawa leading the charge.

“The team made its mark and that’s because we had Collin playing the role as catalyst,” said Wheeler, whose team finished 20-3, 7-1 in league. “He stabilized the team by keeping it calm.

“Everybody throughout the entire program respects Collin, on and off the course. It’s cool to see something like that. He’s been the leader we’ve always needed.”

Morikawa often paved the way for the Spartans, who shared the league championship with South Pasadena. He stood at the top after carding a two-round score of 135 at the league’s individual tournament at Marshall Canyon Golf Course in La Verne.

Morikawa finished seven strokes under par and eight strokes ahead of his closest competitor. He opened with a one-under-par 70 before shooting a six-under 65.

“I really enjoyed playing at Marshall Canyon,” Morikawa said. “It was an amazing experience to play those two rounds there.

“I got off to a great starts in both rounds and just kept trying to play my game. I got locked in and found myself playing very well. It was great to win league again, but you come into the rounds not knowing what’s going to happen.”

Suh, an All-Area pick for two straight seasons, said Morikawa left no doubt he could fare well in the league event.

“It’s got a lot to do with his dedication to the sport and going out there to try to be the best he can be,” said Suh, who finished runner-up in league at 143. “You can always count on him making that big shot or putt.

“I think he’s one of the best [high school] players in the country. You can see how determined he is to always give his best and help the team.”

Morikawa then ventured to River Ridge Golf Club’s Vineyard Course to partake in the CIF Southern Section Northern Individual Regional Tournament. While the conditions weren’t conducive because of gusty winds, Morikawa carded a four-over-par 76 to finish tied for 27th in the field of 104.

Just four players shot under par in the 18-hole round. The cut was 75, leaving Morikawa out of the mix.

“That was a pretty crazy round with the wind always blowing,” Morikawa said. “I did everything I could to stay with it, but it just wasn’t meant to be.”

With one more season left at La Cañada, Morikawa has already begun looking ahead.

There are plenty of goals Morikawa would like to achieve, ranging from winning league to possibly helping the Spartans reach the state tournament for the first time.

“I’m already looking forward to next season,” Morikawa said. “We’ll have four or five starters returning and I’m sure we’ll all being practicing a lot during the summer and playing in tournaments.

“We are always trying to do something different. We feel like we can go even further than we did this year.”


Follow Charles Rich on Twitter: @TCNCharlesRich .

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