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Nobuhiko Wakaari had a plan in mind when he left his home in Niigata, Japan and traveled to the United States last year.

He was looking to improve his English-speaking skills and get better all-around as a golfer. He is also looking to transfer to a four-year college next year after completing his sophomore season on the golf team at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita.

“I’m really grateful to Coach (Gary Peterson) and the team and everyone,” Wakaari said. “I really appreciate these guys, as they play well. I’m really happy to win with these guys.”

It’s been a winning season for College of the Canyons, as the Cougars won a 10th straight Western State Conference championship at Soule Park Golf Course in Ojai and captured the California Community College Athletic Association Southern California Regional Championship at Los Serranos Golf Club in Chino Hills.

It was all College of the Canyons on Monday, with Wakaari winning low individual medalist honors and the Cougars winning the team title of the 2019 CCCAA Men’s Golf State Championships at Silverado Resort and Spa. The one-day, 36-hole event was hosted by Napa Valley College and Silverado.

Wakaari had rounds of 73 and a tournament-low 69 for a 2-under-par 142 total on the North Course, a par-72, 6,793-yard layout that is host to the PGA Tour’s Safeway Open.

Wakaari was one shot off the lead, trailing five players who were all at even-par 72, after the first 18-hole round.

“He’s been dominant pretty much all season,” said Peterson. “He’s had a lot of rounds in the 60s.”

College of the Canyons won its ninth title, a state record, after shooting rounds of 371 and 363 for a 734 total. Previous championships came in 2013, 2015 and 2017.

“The boys have been playing really well over the last three weeks,” Peterson said after an awards ceremony. “Our game plan was just to take the hand cuffs off and let them play and be aggressive. I’m very comfortable with the way these guys are, both as golfers and as individuals. Extremely proud of them today. Our game plan was to get them here and turn them loose.”

College of the Canyons won in runaway fashion, finishing 18 shots in front of Santa Barbara City College, the runner-up, which had rounds of 381 and 371 for a 752 total.

Jules Lavigne was third individually (72-74 – 146), Anguerrand Voisin was fourth (75-71 – 146), Tom Sims was 12th (75-75 – 150), Matthew Mansholt was 13th (74-76 – 150), and Jack Greene was 40th (78-80 – 158) for College of the Canyons.

“Every one of the tournaments we’ve played in the last three weeks we’ve done better in the second 18, which is a sign of a really strong team,” said Peterson. “They’re strong physically and they’re strong mentally. They’re persistent. Our philosophy is, no matter how bad it is, stay positive, smile on your face, negative energy kills you, the last six holes are the most important holes of the whole tournament.

“They’re good golfers. They wanted to win. It was not like … ‘Let’s try to win.’ It was, ‘Let’s go win.’ And I think that although they’re physically and mentally exhausted, I think that they had a goal the entire time, and they obviously met that goal today.”

Cypress College finished third (383-383 – 766), Folsom Lake College was fourth (384-384 – 768), Reedley College was fifth (381-390 – 771), Mt. San Antonio College (Walnut) was sixth (384-389 – 773), San Jose City College was seventh (398-390 – 788), and Fresno City College was eighth (402-392 – 794) in the team scoring.

The 60-player field included 12 golfers who advanced from their respective regional as individuals, as they are not members of the qualifying teams.

There are six players on a team, with five scores counting.

Awards were presented to the top three teams. Medals were awarded to the low six individuals and also to members of the winning and runner-up teams.

College of the Canyons has a large squad, with 23 players listed on the roster. Peterson said he played 13 different players in tournaments during the season.

“These kids have to compete all season long amongst themselves,” said Peterson, whose team plays out of Valencia Country Club. “These guys rose to the top and were the most consistent and went the deepest. I know that that’s why we are successful as we are, because we have a big squad and they literally beat up on each other – every day in practice.”

Individually, Myoung Kim of Orange Coast College (Costa Mesa) was second (72-73 – 145), Lavigne was third (72-74 – 146), Voisin was fourth (75-71 – 146), Trent Caraher of Santa Barbara City was fifth (75-72 – 147), and David Marris of Cypress was sixth (72-75 – 147).

The top 6 placers were named to the All-State Team.

Wakaari began playing golf at the age of 9 in Niigata. He went to high school at Kaishi Kokusai.

He said winning the state title is the biggest victory of his career so far.

“I did pretty well today. I hit a lot of fairways and my shot looked pretty good,” said Wakaari, the WSC Player of the Year. “But my putting was not good today. I missed a lot from three and four feet. I could have made a lot of birdies today.”

It was Wakaari, 19, who reached out to Peterson about the golf program at College of the Canyons. Peterson said he gets “quite a few inquiries from international students” about the Canyons program.

State tournament notes

* Jerry Dunlap, NVC’s Associate Dean of Physical Education and Athletics, served as the event’s host athletic director and administrator.

* Bob Freschi, NVC’s head golf coach, served as the event manager.

* Northern California Golf Association staff was on hand, to assist with rules and administration.

* College of the Canyons won the 2018 CCCAA Women’s Golf State Championship at Morro Bay Golf Course. Peterson is the head coach of the women’s team.

* Lavigne, Sims and Voisin were named to the All-WSC team.

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Executive Sports Editor

Executive Sports Editor Marty James has been with the Napa Valley Register since 1979. He is a member of the Associated Press Sports Editors, California Prep Sportswriters Association, and the California Golf Writers Association. He was inducted into the