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Luna golf teams benefit from topnotch instruction

By Staff | May 3, 2012

The Luna girls golf team includes: front — Head Coach Laura Jones; standing (from left) — Bailey Pendergast, Jennifer Mentz, Ennah Cabading, Sabrina Armijo and Michiko Smith. Lamberthe Sanchez-Garcia is also on the team. Photo by Laura Jones.

LAHAINA – It should come as no surprise that the upward curve of the Lahainaluna High School golf fortunes continued to climb during the 2012 Maui Interscholastic League season.

For with the welcoming support and access to two of the country’s premier golf facilities at Kaanapali and Kapalua, the Luna boys and girls are treated to not only the opportunity to practice and compete on these courses, but also the expertise of the staffs at both resorts.

With the Lahaina Junior Golf program flourishing as well to introduce the youngsters to the game, Lahainaluna is indeed on a solid drive down the center of the fairway to success.

Add to the mix the professional leadership of the coaches – Laura Jones for the Lady Lunas and Sutee Nitakorn with the boys – and the course is clearly set for positive results.

Coach Jones, a physical education teacher at Lahainaluna and a former scholarship player at Illinois State University, has taken over for the retired Lee Munemitsu as the Lady Lunas’ mentor.

She made the decision to forego a shot at a professional career after graduating from college with a degree in education.

“I faced the decision that many college athletes come to – whether to pursue a professional career or get married and start a family. I chose the latter, got married (to Mike Jones, director of golf at Kapalua), and we have two daughters now, ten and 13 years old.”

Despite not taking the professional route, she has remained involved in the game and continues to play golf during the summer on the amateur circuit.

As the children got older and the opportunity arose to coach at Lahainaluna, she took the helm and swung into action.

“I added some things to the practices – some running and conditioning, as well as structured training and regimentation along with work on our short game… the girls really applied themselves well to what we were trying to do. They are disciplined and all willing to learn – which led to improvement in all of them – and I am sure that it will all click for them soon. I am excited and looking forward to next year with the younger girls coming up through the junior golf program that we encourage to use the tools and apply what their learning during the summer.”

The Lady Lunas finished third in the MIL this season, led by senior Michiko Smith, who was characterized by Coach Jones as a team leader who motivated the young team with her strong work ethic, and junior Bailey Pendergast. The remainder of the young Lahainaluna roster was made up of sophomore Sabrina Armijo and freshmen Emma Cabading and Jennifer Mentz.

The Luna boys, who won a historic first MIL golf championship in 2011, slipped to third this year despite the strong efforts of juniors Malu Rosenthal and Tyler Armijo, who finished fifth and 11th, respectively, in the league’s individual tournament and thus qualified for the state playoffs May 7-9 at the Wailua Golf Course on Kauai.

Backing up this pair were junior Blake Ramelb, sophomores Rhett Wiseman and Jake Horton, and freshmen Lucas Bell, Lance Ito, Kerek Franz and Hunter Ramelb.

“We were a very young team, with no seniors, this year, which looks great for next year,” explained Coach Nitakorn, who was assisted by Don Rosenthal, the commissioner of the Lahaina Junior Golf program.

“Our top four of Malu, Tyler, Lucas and Rhett played consistently all year for us, and the younger players helped as well.

“We all appreciate the support of the Kaanapali Resort and people like Ed Kageyama over there, who always offered the use of the facility for the team, and others like Gordon Casco, who always was on hand to help the team out,” Nitakorn continued.

Both coaches cited the work by Lahainaluna Athletic Director Scott Soldwisch in taking care of the administrative side of things.

“We really appreciate the support of Coach Scott in supporting the teams as well as being the coordinator of MIL golf,” Jones said.

“And for the girls team, we send our thanks out to the Kapalua Resort for all of their support for us. Mike (Jones) and the entire staff out there always are welcoming to the team and provide a great practice facility for the team.”