It didn’t take freshman Sydney Maluenda long to make her mark on the women’s golf team
A sense of uncertainty surrounded the George Fox women’s golf team as the 2013 season came to a close. The Bruins were coming off a fourth straight conference championship and a fourth-place showing at the national tournament, but they were graduating the national women’s player of the year. Coach MaryJo McCloskey knew she needed a leader to emerge to ensure continued success. The Bruins’ rival, Whitman College, was growing ever closer in the rearview mirror.
Enter Sydney Maluenda, a freshman from Hawaii with a beautiful swing and a purist’s love for the game. Though young and new to the college game, she stepped up to be the leader the team desperately needed. “At the beginning of the year, it was tough to be a team that graduated seniors and didn’t have any seniors to replace them,” she says. “But it was that challenge that became the driving force propelling us forward. No one knew if we had enough experience to buckle down and get things done.”
Early on, a lack of senior leadership and experience proved too much to overcome. At the Northwest Conference Fall Classic, Whitman beat George Fox by 20 strokes to take the league lead heading into the spring portion of the season. It appeared the George Fox women’s golf dynasty might be coming to an end.
Maluenda admits the team had growing pains early on. “Because we were so young and primarily a freshman team, we didn’t know each other’s games,” she says. “The fall season is when we learned how to help each other out. The spring season is when we got it together. We needed that time to figure out how to support each other.”
The Bruins responded by posting nine first-place finishes in the spring, with the most impressive win coming at the NWC championships, where they defeated runner-up Whitman by 30 strokes to claim a fifth straight conference title. The showing earned George Fox a return to the NCAA national championships in Florida, where the Bruins placed ninth.
For her part, Maluenda posted the nation’s third-best stroke average and racked up five wins in 11 regular-season tournaments. Her efforts landed her NWC Player of the Year honors, the NCAA Division III Women’s Golf Freshman of the Year award, All-West Region accolades and First-Team All-America recognition from the Women’s Golf Coaches Association.
How did she handle the pressure as a freshman adjusting to collegiate academics and life away from Hawaii? For Maluenda, it was simply a matter of keeping herself focused on what was best for the team. “It doesn’t matter if I’m a freshman or a senior, I’m going to golf for my team,” she says. “Put me down in the 21st spot; I will always golf for my team.”
With no graduating seniors in 2014, the entire women’s golf team will return next fall to pick up where they left off. This time, there’s no telling what the Bruins are capable of accomplishing together.