As spring sports are nearing postseason play, the Ithaca College golf team is using its small roster to chip away at some high ambitions. Among the young three-woman roster — with two players being underclassmen — is first-year student Annika Michel, sophomore Rheanna DeCrow and senior Cristea Park.
Park, as the only senior on the team, has taken up a primary leadership role after standout senior Mary Gersec was barred from competition because of an institutional rule keeping students from student teaching and playing a sport at the same time.
Since then, Park — who was named Liberty League Rookie of the Year in 2021 — has led the team with exceptional play, shooting a career-low round of 73 (+1) at the Vassar College Invitational on April 1.
Although the team is one player short of being able to compete together at tournaments, the squad has competed individually throughout the fall and spring seasons and has seen some stellar performances from the entire roster.
Assistant Sports Editor Tess Ferguson spoke with Park about her time with the team and stepping into a newfound leadership role.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tess Ferguson: You’re in a really interesting position this year with such a small roster after losing senior Mary Gersec. How has that impacted your season so far? Does it pose any challenges?
Cristea Park: When my teammates found out about Mary leaving, I think it was just a little bit of a morale breaker for them. I remember talking to my teammates about it and we were all just so shocked. Of course, Mary did everything she could to play and it was unfortunate that she wasn’t able to. I think, for me, I just needed to keep the mindset that there’s nothing we can do about it, so I’m just going to move on. As much as I miss Mary, it’s unfortunately not something we can change. Rather than harping on it, it’s just better to take it as it is and work with what we have.
TF: How is having such a thin roster this year something your team has gone about overcoming?
CP: I think we definitely make an effort to still be a team. Like, I don’t want any of my teammates to think that they’re individuals. I want them to realize that we’re still part of the team. … I don’t want anyone to think that all the pressure falls on them individually. I’d rather just keep that team environment going on. I think we do a good job of doing that and I think we still uphold the standards of being a team rather than individual players, which is key for us.
TF: On the same topic, I know that golf is just so individual in nature. What role do you think having that really strong team chemistry plays in your success?
CP: I’ve been really fortunate to have really great upperclassmen before I was a senior and, honestly, even throughout high school. I’ve personally looked at them and I was like, ‘I want to be just as good as you,’ you know? I really took them as inspiration. I was just very fortunate to know what a team is supposed to look like and that’s why I want to do my best to provide that for my girls. I found some of my best friends on this team and I’ve also learned a lot about myself because of that team aspect. Especially mentally, I almost think it’ll help you grow when you play with other people and are part of a team.
TF: On a more individual level, of course, you’re a senior this year. How do you think your performances and playing style have changed from your first year to now?
CP: I feel like now I’m starting to believe that I really am good and I am confident enough in myself. It sounds stupid because not a lot of people know that about me. I don’t always show that I’m not as confident as a player. I know I have good scores and I can shoot well, but part of being a consistent golfer and a better golfer is having that confidence to play well all the time and, when you’re not having a great day, your mental game is going to make or break you. If you can fight through [a bad day], I think you can scrap up a pretty decent round. … This spring, I’ve been telling myself it’s not a physical fight, it’s a mental fight. I have all the capabilities physically to do what I need to do, but am I going to stay positive? Am I going to like let a bad shot hurt me or like am I going to rebound from that? That’s what a good golfer does.
TF: As for the rest of your season, what kind of goals do you have for your individual performance?
CP: I want to keep this momentum going. I had a great first tournament because I shot my career low, which I’m really proud of. I’d love to try to stay in the 70s as much as possible, but, overall, I just want to have a good outlook. I want to look back and have no regrets about my performance. Making sure that I leave it all out there so I can be able to say that I tried my best is really important to me.