Meet Quinnipiac’s only conference-winning team last year

Golf head coach John O’Connor: Not winning MAAC would be ‘huge disappointment’


Photo from QU Athletics

The Quinnipiac golf team was ranked No. 1 in the MAAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll after winning the conference last year.

Brendan Samson, Podcast Producer

Quinnipiac University has 21 athletic teams. Out of those 21 teams, only one of them won its conference championship last season. That team is not men’s ice hockey or women’s soccer — it’s golf, who won the MAAC title last year and looks to repeat in 2022.

Over the past three seasons, the golf team has quietly been one of best teams the school has to offer. In the 2018-19 season, the Bobcats tied for second place in the MAAC tournament, the 2019-20 season was canceled due to the pandemic and in 2020-21 they came home victorious after beating out eight other schools, but had regionals canceled due to rain.

Not only did they defeat these schools, they demolished them. The school with the closest score was Albany, a whopping 18 strokes behind.

While there has been massive turnover for the team since 2018, the goal is no different for head coach John O’Connor: win the MAAC and make some noise in regionals.

O’Connor said not winning the conference would be a “huge disappointment,” especially considering where the Bobcats rank among other MAAC teams.

“The team is really good,” O’Connor said. “We’re in the national rankings that have 265 Division I teams, we’re over 20 spots better than the next team in our conference, which is Albany.”

In Golfweek’s national rankings, Quinnipiac, ranked 130, slotted in a mere .49 points above Albany at 150. O’Connor thinks that is far closer than it should be.

“The St. John’s event that finished our season last year, we beat Yale, we beat Seton Hall, we beat St. John’s, and Columbia,” O’Connor said. “Not all (are ranked ahead), St. John’s is not ranked ahead of us, but Yale right now is ranked 75 in the country and we beat them.”

While Albany is the stiffest competition in the MAAC, Quinnipiac will see a major change in strength of schedule outside of the conference. Last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team only played schools in Connecticut.

For 2022, the schedule is back to normal, and to kick it off, the team travels to Mill Springs, North Carolina to play in the Gardner Webb University Invitational. However, the pandemic will still impact the season as the team will have to bus to tournaments, in some scenarios upwards of 14 hours.

Not only will the team be busing to North and South Carolina, places that they used to fly, but O’Connor will have the privilege of manning the wheel for the trips. 

Despite the long ride, junior Kaylee Sakoda is excited to travel because for her and many of the players, this will be their first opportunity to play out-of-state courses since 2019.

“Going somewhere besides just around here and out to those courses that we haven’t been to since freshman year,” Sakoda said. “Like Hilton Head. We’re really looking forward to just being somewhere else.”

Along with staying in state last season, Sakoda missed the first five fall tournaments in 2021 because of a wrist injury, only competing in the final tournament, the Saint John’s Invitational.

The injury came after Sakoda slept on her wrist the wrong way, which resulted in almost two months where she was unable to practice until slowly ramping up activity for the tournament.

“I was just practicing, half-shots, not even driver, and just chipping and putting a lot,” Sakoda said. “Then, going into the tournament, it was just kind of like, ‘I’ll play and then if my wrist hurts, then I can pull out. If not, just see how it goes.’ I didn’t really have any expectations for how I would play and then ended up playing well.”

“Well” is an understatement as Sakoda came out and shot a 69, equating to 2-under-par and tying her teammate, sophomore Amy Uchida, for the best score in the tournament. The two led Quinnipiac to a first-place tournament finish, beating out second-place Albany once again, this time by 14 strokes.

Now with Sakoda back and at full strength, O’Connor views the roster as one the deepest in the NCAA.

“Kaylee is solid. Amy Uchida is solid. Leeyen Peralta is solid. We’re solid from top to bottom,” O’Connor said. “Meg Yoshida is solid. Elysa Kim is solid. Pauline Zang is solid. In addition to girls that we won with last year. Darby Lillibridge, Elena Lopez is solid. Mia Grzywinski was Player of the Year in Connecticut and I mean, we can use her, but we’re a little bit better than she is now, we’re deep. It’s a good team.”

O’Connor called nine of these players solid but can only use five.

Among the reserves is junior Grzywinski, who despite winning Connecticut Professional Golfers’ Association Player of the Year twice in high school, serves as a depth player on the team.

Fortunately, depth is the key to success in team golf. Each school has five players who compete for them, but only the bottom four scores are counted. That means that all five scores are equally important. It’s not enough for one player to shoot low, they all need to be able to post low scores.

Golf head coach John O’Connor goes pin hunting with a 7-iron on the team’s TrackMan 4 simulator. (Brendan Samson)

One thing helping the Bobcats shoot low is the nifty new simulator room located in the corner of the Athletic and Recreation Center. During the winter months, the team has been using the simulator to stay tournament ready.

“We were here last year, we were able to practice,” Sakoda said. “It was very, very helpful, because we got to play in the hours that we normally couldn’t like after dark or when it was just too cold outside.”

The TrackMan 4 simulator allows for the players to play real courses all over the world, including Pebble Beach and even Hilton Head, the course the team will travel to on March 19 for the Low Country Intercollegiate tournament. While it is not as good as the courses themselves, it has technology that they cannot use out on the course.

“You have to be able to hit a fade if you need to, or hit a draw when you need to,” O’Connor said. “So, they have to get good at some of those shots. Fine-tuning their distances. So, if I went to one of them and said, ‘How far do you carry a 7-iron?’ Because of the simulator, they can tell me exactly what that number is.”

Thanks to the simulator and its aid in honing their skills, junior Leeyen Peralta is excited to get their season started and see where it takes them.

“I definitely say that we’re all looking forward to MAACs,” Peralta said. “And then because of our experience last year winning MAACs and going on to regionals – at least both of us (Peralta and Sakoda) – and then a big number of us are looking forward to getting to regionals and just see what happens there.”