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Regional starts today for golf

YOUNGSTOWN — It’s been a long and difficult journey for the Youngstown State women’s golf program this season.

Changes in formats, a nixed fall season and the other challenges that go along with the ongoing pandemic would be enough to slow down any athletic program.

Not for the Penguins, who come into NCAA Regionals play this afternoon off a Horizon League title, their first league championship since 2015, among other accolades.

Succeeding with so much adversity is a testament to the team’s character.

“I think it says a lot,” YSU junior and Boardman grad Jenna Vivo said. “It speaks volumes for my teammates and I, that we kept pushing hard no matter what the circumstances were and we just all had one common goal, and that was a bring a championship back home to Youngstown. We’re glad we accomplished that. I think we all just came in with the same game plan. We didn’t think too much about it, we just wanted to make sure that we played (well) and just got it done.”

YSU made the trip to Columbus for today’s tee-off at The Ohio State University Golf Club’s Scarlet Course, facing off against teams such as Duke, Michigan, Clemson, Kent State, Kentucky and many more. It’s a course that Vivo has played on before, casually, but there will be plenty of challenges facing the Penguins.

“There’s a lot of fairway bunkers that are pretty difficult, and tee balls have to be on point and everything. It’s a pretty tough track,” Vivo said. “But, I think that our team can handle it, and I’m excited to see how we’re going to perform there.”

The Penguins have played in groups of five this season, a new rule for the season that also was used at the Horizon League tournament. However, the NCAA tournament will feature traditional pairings among other teams, something different from a majority of the events that YSU has took part in this year.

“The golf course setup will be much more demanding, it’ll be about 300 yards longer, and I expect the rough to be quite thick,” YSU coach Nate Miklos said. “We know it’s not going to be overly warm, the course is probably going to be soft from all the rain they’ve been getting, so the course setup is going to be much more demanding.”

The weather over the past week hasn’t been ideal for the Penguins, who have spent as much time as they’ve can outside, along with using the putting setup within the upstairs of the WATTs, along with the retractable nets to allow players to practice driving.

YSU’s lineup this afternoon features redshirt senior Katlyn Shutt (Dover), junior Puthita Khuanrudee (Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand), along with sophomores Danae Rugola (Uniontown, Pa.), Christina Lewis (Wexford, Pa.), and Vivo.

Khuanrudee was named First-Team All-Horizon League, along with Shutt winning Golfer of the Year, and Miklos earning Coach of the Year.

Shutt, a former YSU Women’s Athlete of the Year, has the opportunity to compete in the NCAA Regional round for the first time in her decorated career, something that has made her past few years finally come together.

“I think it was really cool to open and close my college career with wins at conference, and I know that the back injury was something I wish I never had to go through again, but I think everything has really come full circle, and I think it’s been a great career,” Shutt said. “I think that the pressure might feel a little different because there’s Duke and Michigan State, and we’re a really small school compared to them.

“But, I think we’re all just really excited, even though it may not go how we want, but I think we’re all just excited to get on a field that big.”

Playing on a softer course is going to have an impact too, something the Penguins are going to have to maneuver around throughout the week.

“It just makes it a little longer, the ball isn’t going to roll as far and I think that instead of getting big bounces out of the fairway, I think it’s just going to play a hair longer,” Shutt said. “We just got to be prepared for that.”

The three-day event gets underway this morning at Ohio State, with Vivo starting the Penguins off with a 9:50 a.m. tee time, being paired with Campbell and the University of Evansville during Day 1.

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