Working her magic in her first season as head coach, Maria Kostina has provided a big boost to the Post Falls High boys and girls golf teams and has changed the culture, one tough practice at a time.
BORN AND raised in Moscow, Russia, and raised roughly 22 miles west of Moscow in Nakhabino, the 30-year-old Kostina was the first Russian, male or female, to play in a major golf championship by playing in the U.S. Women's Open in 2007 in Southern Pines, N.C. She turned pro in 2006 and was a member of the LPGA Duramed Futures Tour for three years.
"Just to get there was unreal," Kostina said of qualifying for the U.S. Women's Open. "It was nerve-wracking to get there, I had to shoot some unbelievably low scores. It was overwhelming, there were some of the toughest greens there. But I was real proud of getting there. I putted well."
From 2002-05, she played on the women's golf team at Washington State, where she majored in psychology. She was also the youngest Russian amateur champion, at the age of 14, in 1997.
Now a certified teacher at Randy Henry's Dynamic Golf at The Shops in downtown Coeur d'Alene, Kostina has brought that experience to coaching. Randy Henry is the coach of the Russian Olympic team, which is looking to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
"We use it to teach anyone from a scratch handicapper to top-level players," Kostina said of Dynamic Golf. "A lot of people see the technology and they get scared and think, 'This is not for me.' But we get results faster than the naked eye. We see things you normally wouldn't be able to see out on the course."
Kostina's sister, Anastasia, also played at WSU, from 2003-06. She played on the U.S. and European professional women's tours, and now lives in White Plains, N.Y.
Anastasia, an all-Pac-10 Conference first-team selection in 2005, will try to help the Russian Olympic team qualify for the Olympics, Maria said.
Maria Kostina has not played competitively for six years and has focused her time and efforts on teaching and coaching golf.
Darrell Hull, head coach of Post Falls' golf teams last year and head golf pro at Prairie Falls, asked Maria to be his assistant. This year, Hull took a job as Director of Golf at The Links Golf Club in Post Falls, and his bosses at The Links wanted him to focus on his job there for the first year. Maria applied for the head coaching job at Post Falls, and was hired by athletic director Craig Christensen.
"She's done an excellent job," Christensen said. "I've been really pleased with her so far. We knew the boys were going to be good coming in, but she has them playing at a high level. She's strived to make the competition more stringent within the team and she's let anybody challenge each other. She's had some younger kids step up and they preach competition between the team and it helps prepare them for the matches they go into."
If Hull is able to return as head golf coach at Post Falls next year, Kostina would then return to being an assistant.
LAST SEASON, the Trojan girls team qualified for the state 5A tournament, finishing ninth.
"The whole team improved tremendously," Kostina said. "They were beginners, most of them started from scratch. A funny joke was one time I asked them, 'What do you shoot (as a score) on average?' And they shot on average to the 50-yard sign, to the 100-yard sign, which they didn't even know what that meant."
TROJAN GOLFERS, all 29 of them between the boys and girls teams, are under constant pressure. But it's all in good fun, as Kostina and assistants Tony Angel and Joe Angel, has installed constant competition among the golfers. Maria has implemented certain aspects of how the Russian Olympic team prepares for tournaments.
"Every single practice round, every single qualifier, every single tournament, we've added four things to the team," Kostina said. "Competition, we added pressure, some fun and also, no excuses. There's the games we require that add some of that. So let's say a typical practice, we divide them into groups. They'll have a playing partner they have to compete against."
Kostina has players visualizing shots in certain situations. For instance, during a practice round, they could imagine a good round gets them into the state tournament.
"They're going to go to different stations and each station has a different game, where they would have to accomplish something," Kostina said. "There's a driving range game, there's a putting game, there's a chipping game, and they rotate through and they pit themselves against their own teammate. We also have some big pressure games at the end of practice. There's this one called 'king of the putting' ... where everybody else watches each other and it's like, this putt counts for something ... so if you make this putt, you qualify to go to regionals or state. There's situational pressure."
As for the "no excuses" credo, Kostina has tried to challenge her players to improve their confidence.
"I want our team to be able to say, 'I did this in spite of this', versus 'I couldn't do it because of this.' Maybe it's something like, 'I didn't play well because my parents grounded me' or 'I'm having a bad day at school'. When things aren't going great, we want them to respond."
KOSTINA ALWAYS has her players competing against each other, so much so that the Trojans' No. 1 golfer one week may not necessarily be the No. 1 golfer one or two weeks later.
This week, Joseph Glenn is the No. 1 golfer, Colton Serdahl is No. 2, and Corey Beaver is at No. 3 - for now.
The Post Falls boys team won the Lake City Invitational on Monday, with Glenn earning medalist honors with a 69.
Madison Dalton is No. 1 for the girls team, followed by Makayla Franks at No. 2 and Savanna Routh at No. 3.
"Everyone has to prove himself or herself every single practice, every single tournament," Kostina said. "In the next practice, everyone has to compete for their spot before the next tournament. Just because someone shot the best score, doesn't mean he or she gets to coast and sit back and be No. 1. Anyone gets to challenge them for their spots."
Kostina's impact has been felt almost immediately. The boys team won the Clarkston Invitational on March 10 with a team score of 329.
"I looked at our team's history and saw Post Falls won one first-place trophy since 2000," Kostina said. "The boys have won three out of five tournaments. The girls used to shoot in the 120s and now they're shooting 101 to 106. They're all showing big improvement."
Bruce Bourquin is a sports writer at The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2013, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @bourq25