UT golfer Sathika Ruenreong, left, and coach Nicole Hollingsworth watch Manisa Isavas practice recently at the Toledo Country Club. Ruenreong fired a 77 and Isavas a 78 at Friday's MAC tournament.
When the two Asian players on the University of Toledo women’s golf team begin to converse in their native tongue, they are interrupted.
“English!” their teammates implore.
Freshmen Sathika Ruenreong and Manisa Isavas never get too comfortable.
“I want them to get the most out of this experience,” Rockets coach Nicole Hollingsworth said.
Both sides have benefited. The Thailand natives helped fuel a season that has gone better than most expected, while the Rockets provided an opportunity to play within the framework of a team, something that was not an option in their home land.
Led by Ruenreong’s 5-over par 77 and Isavas’ 78, the Rockets sit in third after one day at the Mid-American Conference tournament. Toledo, which has won three titles this year and finished runner-up at another, trails 14-time champion Kent by nine strokes and Ball State by four. The three-day event, which Kent State has won every year of the tournament’s existence, is being staged at Longaberger Golf Club in Nashport, Ohio.
Ruenreong entered Friday ranked fifth in the conference — which is where she sits on the leaderboard — with a team-best 76.9 stroke average and has posted nine top-15 finishes. Isavas (78.1) has Toledo’s fourth-best average.
The two women grew up two hours apart — Ruenreong from Kanchanaburi, and Isavas from the capital, Bangkok — and now are roommates. Well, sort of. Their coach arranged for the team’s four freshmen to share a quad-style dorm room but paired the Asians with Americans in separate bedrooms. Hollingsworth has not, however, completely dismissed the idea of making them comfortable. She brought on Thailand native Piyathida Chaiyapan, the team’s top player from a year ago, as a graduate assistant to ease the transition for the next generation.
“Just trying to guide them on the right path to go for their goals, not only in golf but in life,” said Chaiyapan, the MAC runner-up in 2012.
Hollingsworth, in her 10th season, has stocked most of her rosters with international talent. Analyzing recruiting footage on her computer rather than traveling to distant lands, she signed up golfers from England, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Canada, Germany, Spain, and Wales. Hollingsworth said she is continuing to scour Thailand, a land of about 70 million people, few of whom are elite youth golfers. A handful of U.S. programs, including Ohio State, Michigan State, and Eastern Michigan, have pulled talent from the country.
The success of Chaiyapan at UT helped deliver Ruenreong and Isavas, who showed up about a week before school started without having visited campus. Isavas, who posted the team’s top score last week at the Angola Shootout, has performed better of late than in the fall, which mirrors her team’s trajectory. She is tied for ninth at the MAC tournament with teammate Allison Schultz at 6-over 78. Ruenreong on Friday carded her 24th straight round below 80, remaining composed amid expectations that stem from being the team’s top performer.
“I have pressure on me, but I try to do the best for my team,” she said. “I’ve never played on a team before, so this is new to me. When I came here I wanted to play for a team.”
And her team is enjoying the international flavor she and Isavas have brought. Junior Kate Hoops said her teammates have taught her to “slow down and breathe” on the course.
“We learn just as much from them as they learn from us,” Hoops said.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.