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VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Canadians Find Greener Pastures With Canyons

April 03, 1998|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VALENCIA — Justin Solberg knows golf courses. He grew up on one in his native Canada.

But Solberg knows he wouldn't be playing in his favorite sport these days if he were home in tiny Assiniboia in the province of Saskatchewan.

"The wind howls right through and it's cold," Solberg said. "There are little trees. Pretty dead-looking. A little golf course out there in the middle of wheat fields."

How nice Valencia must seem this time of year, especially for this type of game.

Solberg is swinging the sticks not through sleet and snow but the lush fairways of Valencia Country Club, home course for College of the Canyons.

Solberg is among three Canadians on the Canyons team. Solberg, a sophomore, and freshmen Kyle Brandt and Mitch Freeman grew up in separate towns and were only vaguely familiar with each other before deciding to move to Southern California and enroll at the Valencia campus.

Each sought out Canyons separately because of its growing reputation as a junior college power. At least a dozen former Canyons players have earned Division I scholarships since 1988, when the Cougars first advanced to the state finals.

Canyons (23-1), state champion in 1993, is having one of its best seasons in its 15 years under Coach Gary Peterson.

Canyons is 5-1 in Western State Conference matches and leads second-place Ventura by 29 strokes. The Cougars have won by as many as 35 strokes this season.

Brandt, Solberg, Carlos Robledo, Alex Kuyumjian and Ben Krug rank among the top seven players in the WSC.

Robledo (74.5 average), who played at Hart High, ranks first and Brandt (75) is second. Kuyumjian (75.6), a graduate of Westlake, is fourth. Solberg averages 79.3.

"We just seem to go out there and be more consistent than the other teams," said Brandt, who is from Sherwood Parkin in the province of Alberta. "A lot of teams don't have as many good players throughout the lineup as we do. We're a lot more deep."

Most of Canyons' players hold aspirations of a career in golf in one form or another.

For starters, a Division I scholarship is the goal.

"The level of competition here is nothing like the competition at home," Brandt said. "I wanted to play golf 12 months a year and here I get to play golf everyday. Every day I go to the range. We're all dedicated."

Peterson, who started the program in 1984, said he will be surprised if the Cougars do not win the state title May 11 at Hesperia Golf and Country Club.

"This is the best team I've ever had," Peterson said. "This is not only the best team I've ever had, this is one of the best teams I've ever seen play community college golf. Just about all of these guys want to go into golf as a career, either playing or teaching professionally."

Players have flocked to Canyons since the late 1980s.

"Since we first went to the state tournament in '88, we've been getting six or seven letters a year," Peterson said. "That kind of started it. Climate-wise, of course, is a big reason because they can play golf year round."

The scenery, of course, helps. Golf in Canada was never like this.

"They do have some nice golf courses back home," Solberg said. "But they're pretty scarce where I am. I've played some pretty challenging courses. But Valencia is the nicest course I've ever seen."

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