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A young Vista del Lago golf team aspires to take next step behind star Emilee Hoffman.   By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor  ...

A young Vista del Lago golf team aspires to take next step behind star Emilee Hoffman.

  By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor

  For high school golfers of the Sac-Joaquin Section, it doesn’t get much better than winning the SJS Masters Tournament as a sophomore. But that is exactly what Vista del Lago’s Emilee Hoffman is striving to go beyond. 

  Having established herself as an elite golfer with a game that gives her the opportunity to “go low” every time she hits the links, the junior wants to further raise her golf ceiling.

  “My goals for myself this year are to have fun and keep getting better,” Hoffman states simply.

  She has followed up a sensational sophomore season with a promising start to her junior year that includes a career-best 31 in the Eagle’s Capital Athletic League debut. Hoffman is enjoying success on the course as she continues to improve her game, but the fun does not end with individual medalist honors and college recruitment offers.

  As one of five juniors on a Vista del Lago roster without any seniors, Hoffman is having fun watching her game grow along with the games of her enthusiastic teammates as the program builds momentum.

  “The team has been awesome this year,” she said of the Eagles’ young roster. “All of the girls are super nice and everyone’s games are growing.”

  Growth has been necessary as the Eagles moved up to Division III and now play in the realigned CAL. So far, the move has not slowed down the emerging program that seeks to be more than just Hoffman & Company. The Eagles are unbeaten in CAL play with Hoffman among the team’s lowest scorers in each match thus far.

  Sophomore Noor Ahmed is a solid No. 2 who pushes Hoffman in practice and match play. Vista del Lago took third place in the Helen Lengfeld Tournament in Rocklin at the start of the season, with Ahmed finishing third in the individual results with an impressive 76. Hoffman birdied four of the last five holes to card a 70 and take first place in that tournament. That tournament convinced Vista del Lago it could contend as a team.

  Emilee HoffmanIn addition to Hoffman and Ahmed, the Eagles’ low scorers include juniors Haley D’Amico, Rileigh Varga and Amanda McGuire, as well as sophomore Marina Peralta and freshman Ana Lee. With more seasoning in CAL competitions, Vista del Lago is hoping to advance to the Section Masters as a team for the second consecutive year. The Eagles finished as Division IV runners-up in 2013, but struggled at Masters — the biggest stage they had yet to play on.

  “Our team goal is to win the league title and try to win a divisional title,” coach Miguel Rodriguez said. “We struggled at Section Masters last year, but I am hopeful that the experience of the Masters Tournament carries over, so that we can compete and have a good showing this year.”

  Rodriguez, who is beginning his third year coaching the girls golf program, has had the pleasure of watching the team, and Hoffman in particular, make strides each year. With the numbers of participants at an all-time high, the coach believes that the potential to build a contender around Hoffman is real.

  Rodriguez has witnessed Hoffman’s steady rise and sees the junior as an ideal example for the young team to follow.

  “Her work ethic is second to none,” Rodriguez said. “From tee to green, she is good. She hits the ball far and sets up her second shot very well.”

  Hoffman is very strong off the tee, typically outdriving the competition. But she is more than just a big hitter. She emphasizes course management and mental strength as the greatest tools in her bag.

  “Mentally I think that my course management and keeping in the moment are my strengths,” Hoffman said. “It is important to not get too high or too low on the course because there are always lots of holes to play.”

  Despite being just a junior, Hoffman has played plenty of holes during her high school career. As a freshman, she opened a lot of eyes as she narrowly missed advancing to the CIF NorCal Tournament. She shot a 77 at the Section Masters and finished fourth among individual qualifiers. Only the top three earn berths to the NorCal tourney, so Hoffman’s season ended just three strokes short of the 74 posted by the final individual qualifier, Granite Bay senior Paige Lee.

  “She was disappointed,” Rodriguez said of Hoffman’s reaction to the end of her freshman season. “I knew that she would have three more years to get farther, but I was a little surprised with her performance last year.”

  That performance included individual medalist honors at the Div. IV tournament before besting a solid group of upperclassmen with a 2-under 70 to capture the Section Masters individual title at The Reserve at Spanos Park. She followed those victories with a top-four finish at NorCals and a top-20 result at the CIF State Championships.

  “It was a great time and a great learning experience,” she said of her trip to the stater tournament. “It was awesome to get all the way to state and play against the best girls in California. I hope that I can make it back and have fun this year.”

  Hoffman’s breakout sophomore season and success in American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) play — she won a pair of tournaments against national competition in 2013 — have kick-started her recruiting process. Still in the early stages, she is focusing on more than just golf to determine where she might spend four years in the classroom and on the course.

  “I definitely want to play golf in college,” she said. “I am looking for a school that is a good fit academically and with the golf program. This is a real exciting time as the process is just starting for me.”

  Hoffman’s greatest golf may also just be starting as the postseason quickly approaches. The goals that Hoffman and Rodriguez have outlined include return trips to the state championships where they can compete to become the Sac Joaquin Section’s first-ever girls golf champion.

  Even for the fun-seeking Hoffman, things couldn’t get much better than that.

Emilee Hoffman

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