Posted by Press Democrat Staff Writer Michael Coit:

In helping build a winner at Cal State Monterey Bay, former Empire great Courtney Soekland is moving up the college golf ranks.

Twice All-Empire golfer of the year at Santa Rosa high, Soekland was number two this season on the Otters, who finished seventh at the NCAA Division II Championships — the team’s first appearance in the finals.

Lowering her average score by three shots from her freshman season, Soekland helped Cal State Monterey Bay to its best showing in just the team’s fourth year in Division II.

“Courtney has really made a huge improvement. Sometimes it takes three or four years to get where she is,” said Otters coach Teri Greene.

Soekland finished strong at the end of the season, tying for second at both the Sonoma State Women’s Spring Invitational and the Ashland Desert Invitational, in Mesa, Ariz.

The national championships were played on the same Arizona course, Longbow Golf Club. Soekland didn’t fare as well against the tougher field.

“My last day was good. The other days I just wasn’t as consistent. I finished strong so I was happy about that,” Soekland said.

Taking something positive from the tournament reflects Soekland’s approach to the game.

“The thing about Courtney I love is that she has the best attitude of anyone on the team,” Greene said. “She’s always smiling. She never gets down on herself, plays one shot at a time, enjoys every round she plays.”

A strong mental approach has helped Soekland lower her scores and be more competitive.

“I’m kind of at the point where I have my technique down and now it’s more the mental aspect, how well you can keep yourself together,” Soekland said.

Managing a course during a round and staying focused on every shot are aspects of the game where Soekland continues to improve. Playing summer tournaments across California helps keep her swing and putting sharp.

“This summer I’m going to work a lot. Next year I hope to get better,” she said.

Averaging a 78 for the year, Soekland wants to lower that closer to 72, which would be even par.

Such goals are attainable considering the progress Soekland made over her first two seasons at Cal State Monterey Bay, Greene said.

“This year she came in hitting the ball far, long, really well. She picked up a lot of distance,” she said.

Next year’s goal for the Otters is to not only reach the national championships, but finish in the top three, Soekland said.

“It’s definitely done a lot for our program to go to nationals. It’s exciting for us,” she said. “We want to draw better players and get more people to recognize and know about us.”

Off the golf course, Soekland also has made a smooth transition to college.

Cal State Monterey Bay takes up a slice of the former Fort Ord military base north of Monterey. Many buildings have been torn down, but abandoned structures and wide open spaces remain evident.

The cozy campus and chance to play some great golf courses in the Monterey Bay area attracted Soekland, who also considered playing at either Chico State or Sonoma State.

“I’ve had a lot of fun. It’s kind of nice to be in a place that’s close enough to home, but far away to be in your own place”

Soekland is majoring in business with a focus on management. But she still holds out hope of playing golf professionally.

“It’s always a goal. It’s more realistic just with the experience I’ve had, who I’ve met and what I’ve learned,” she said.