(EDITOR’S NOTE: STORY FROM MONTANA SPORTS INFORMATION)
MISSOULA – If Allison Sobol, who put signature to National Letter of Intent recently to continue her golf career at Montana, was looking for a sign, some sort of indication of what to do with her future, when she made her official visit to Missoula in January, there was nothing subtle about this one.
Boarding with her parents in Portland on their way to Missoula from their home in Eureka, Calif., they stepped foot on Horizon Air’s Griz-themed airplane.
“I was pretty stoked about that. It was so cool,” she said. “And then it was a gut instinct when I got there. It was the whole atmosphere. It had a little bit of feeling of home, but at the same time it was a little different than what I’m used to. It was a good mix.”
It was a serendipitous turn of events that will bring Sobol to Montana in the fall. She was late to the recruiting scene, at least to fully understand the urgency at which it can operate, and Griz coach Kris Nord didn’t become the program’s full-time coach until January. Coach and player, a perfect fit.
“She decided that she wanted to pursue college golf a little late in the process, and I came across her video and reached out,” said Nord, who knew by late fall that he was going to be Montana’s next coach, delayed as the official news was.
“There are a lot of kids who are giving verbals early in their high school careers, so most coaches are looking two or three years down the road, where I had openings immediately. It was kind of a chance thing, but it worked out. I’m hoping she’s a diamond in the rough.”
That doesn’t mean Sobol was late to pick up golf. A love of the sport was passed down from Eric Sobol’s grandparents to his parents to him, and he wanted to share it with his family. They took their first group lesson when his daughter was in kindergarten. By the age of nine, she was hooked.
“I went with my dad. That’s when it started up. A year later, I started playing tournaments down south,” says Sobol, a term she uses to describe and differentiate her part of the state from Southern California.
“You go from Southern California, which is traffic, city, everybody constantly doing something, to up north, and it’s a little more calm and relaxed. It’s out there a little bit, more like Oregon than down south.”
She played herself onto the college recruiting radar early, twice qualifying for the Junior World Championships in San Diego, once after shooting a memorable 67 in a qualifier at Haggin Oaks Golf Course in Sacramento.
It was one of only three qualifying sites outside of San Diego for the entire state of California, with the top two finishers at each advancing to San Diego. And golfers get one chance, with everything riding on a single round.
“It was stressful, but at the same time you want to go out and have fun. You only get one round, so you’ve got to be on fire. I was so pumped to shoot a 67,” said Sobol, who four times would win the Humboldt-Del Norte Conference title as a prep at St. Bernard’s Academy.
Nearly every college golf program in the country descends on San Diego each July for the IMG Academy Junior World Championships, so when Sobol made back-to-back appearances, interest fired up immediately.
She got offers as a freshman and sophomore, but someone who was advising the family told them to be patient. There would be plenty more where those came from. Except her contemporaries were jumping at the opportunity to commit early. That’s the game, whether a golfer and her family know it or not.
“We weren’t sure how it went, and we weren’t going for a scholarship in the beginning. I just loved golfing,” she said. “Later on we realized we probably should have pursued those a little bit more.
“It wasn’t until the end of my junior year that we found someone who helps with college recruiting. He helped me set up a profile and we got started there.”
It just so happened that her timing matched up with that of Nord, who took over for former coach Matt Higgins in August on an interim basis. By the end of his team’s fall season, he knew he wanted to move over to golf full-time after more than three decades coaching tennis at Montana.
He locked up Kylie Esh, of Missoula, and Brooklyn Van Bebber, of Murrieta, Calif., during November’s early signing period, finalizing the commitments that Higgins had initiated, but knew he wanted to add more depth and talent to his roster. So he set out to find it.
“I like her swing, and her scoring averages are great,” said Nord. “Most important, I like her personality. You’ve got to have kids with strong personalities to play college golf.
“You have to be confident to get through the bumps of collegiate competition, because it gets a lot tougher. You have to be able to persevere through the tough spots. The three kids we have coming in all have that characteristic. I’m real picky, and I like the crew we’re getting.”
Sobol didn’t know what she was going to find at the end of her flight from Portland to Missoula on the Griz plane three months ago, but it didn’t take long after she stepped foot in Montana to become convinced that she had found her perfect landing spot.
What started in kindergarten, and decades before that if you trace the sport along her family tree, will continue in the fall as a Grizzly. “It all ended well, as good as it could be,” she said.