Joany Gao picks up medalist honor at Pacific League match

ALHAMBRA — Over the course of her last couple of rounds, Joany Gao has seen noticeable improvement with her overall game.

The late-season surge by the Burroughs High girls’ golfer has put her in position to challenge for the Pacific League individual championship.

Playing in conditions that featured a mixture of light rain and wind, Gao received a huge confidence boost Wednesday, as she finished with two birdies and seven pars to shoot two-under-par 34 in the sixth league match at Alhambra Golf Course.

“I thought I played a very good round, but I still know there are things that I can improve on,” said Gao, who earned medalist honors and was one of 18 players to advance to the league’s individual final on Tuesday at River Ridge Golf Club’s Vineyard Course in Oxnard. “I feel like I’m playing well right now and I’d like to see it continue.

“A lot of things went well. I just want to keep playing well.”

Irene Maemura of Burbank carded a 36 and Crescenta Valley’s Jocelyn Chia, who has won three individual league championships in a row, had a 37. Melissa Leo of La Cañada paced the Spartans with a 37.

Arcadia, took first on the day to wrap up the league championship, carding a 192 on Wednesday. Crescenta Valley tied for second with San Marino with 206. Burroughs placed fourth (208), followed by La Cañada (225) and Burbank (247).

Crescenta Valley finished second in league after splitting the league title with Arcadia last season and Burroughs took third. Arcadia, Crescenta Valley and Burroughs clinched playoff berths. San Marino took fourth in league, followed by La Cañada and Burbank.

Chia, a three-time All-Area Girls’ Golfer of the Year, parred her first eight holes. She leads the league with a 36.2 average.

Chia said she was able to block out the unusual weather conditions.

“There were a few holes where it was rainy and windy,” Chia said. “I felt like I made some good shots.

“I’ve played [River Ridge] before. I just have to stay focused and play consistent.”

Maemura, the lone Bulldog to advance to the league final, said she’s been adjusting to some alterations with her swing.

“I got a little lucky during parts of the match,” said Maemura, a reigning All-Area honoree. “I couldn’t get it together at times.

“I’m excited to be moving on. Hopefully, I can play better.”

La Cañada Coach Rich Wheeler said Leo, a reigning All-Area pick, has begun to peak.

“Her scores lately have been right where they need to be,” Wheeler said. “She’s been shooting in the high 30s a lot.

“She came through today when she needed to.”

The golfers from the Pacific League are dealing with different criteria this season with respect to who qualifies and eventually wins the league individual championship. In years past, a player’s cumulative score would be factored in with how she places in the league finals tournament to determine a winner. This season, a player only needs to qualify for the final round where there will be a winner-take-all format covering 18 holes at 9:20 a.m. Tuesday.

The top eight finishers in league play leading up to the finals and any player within five strokes of the eighth spot punched their ticket for the league finals. The top eight finishers at the league finals will move on to the CIF Southern Section Individual Regional, which will take place Oct. 28 at River Ridge.

In addition to Chia, those from Crescenta Valley slated to appear in the league finals are Audrey Chung, Andrea Han and Gina Chung. Audrey Chung had a 39 on Wednesday, followed by Gina Chung (41) and Han (42).

Joining Gao at the league final will be teammates Katrina Villareal (38) and Stephanie Adachi (47). Keilee Bessho of La Cañada fired a 38 to also qualify for the league final.

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