Courtesy of UCR Athletics

With the Big West Tournament now over, sophomore Jakeishya Le and Head Coach Mary Ritchie have already begun gearing up for their next challenge: The NCAA Regionals in Lubbock, Texas. Le finished second overall in the Big West Tournament this year with a 4-under-par 68 on the final day of the tournament and she was only a single stroke away from forcing a playoff for the number one spot. Entering the final day of the tournament, the Highlanders were sitting at third place, and 24 strokes out of first, but that didn’t phase the team too much as Le explained, “We kinda (sic) like being the underdogs.”

Of course, being the underdog and being able to mount a comeback or an upset requires a high level of maturity and confidence that you might not expect to find in a young golfer. Being cognisant of just how many shots back you are or how many shots you need to take the lead can be a daunting amount of pressure that hinders even seasoned golfers. But Le, who wants that extra pressure and wants to know exactly what incredible score she needs to help pull her team ahead, is no ordinary sophomore. “I really like it, I’m curious,” Le says of knowing how far ahead or close behind her opponent is. Ritchie has found the balance between when Le needs to know these things, and when she needs to take it one shot at a time. While Le calls it curiosity, Ritchie calls it maturity, and it’s a maturity that has developed along with the symbiotic dynamic that Ritchie and Le have.  

That maturity and accord between player and coach were on display at Oak Quarry, especially on the final day of competition, when Le asked what score she needed to advance to regionals. Instead of giving Le a score or a number, or even a shot total, Ritchie simply said, “Beat Martina.” Ritchie was referring to Cal State Fullerton’s Martina Edberg who won the tournament’s individual scoring with a three-round collective score of 210. Le took her coach’s advice and set her goal to beat Edberg, she went after it relentlessly, firing a tournament best 68 to finish with a total of 211, only a single shot behind Edberg. Despite not beating Edberg, Le still qualified for her second regional tournament — a testament to her tenacity and work ethic.

Le’s strong work ethic has translated into her preparation as well, as Ritchie explains, “She’s (Le) been waking up everyday at four in the morning to get on central time, we’ve been training early in the morning to accommodate where her body needs to be that early in the morning. Her tee times are at 8:50 in the morning.” Not only does Le have to battle the time difference, she also has to battle the Texas elements, including the obvious heat and the 20 mph wind that is expected to blow relentlessly throughout the tournament. But Le is taking it all in stride, hoping to get back to regionals and make up for the win she feels she left on the table last year, where, after a strong day one, she finished 10 spots out of the top five by tournament’s end. “Last year, I probably could have made it if I didn’t get in my own head,” recalls Le, “This year I know how to think, I know how to behave and I’ll have the same coach with me …  it’s fun to me now.”

NCAA Regionals begin Monday, May 8 and will continue through Wednesday, May 10 at Texas Tech’s Rawls Course.