Valery Plata is a sophomore at Michigan State University, spending her time as a student athlete out on the green with the women’s golf team.
Her entire freshman year, Plata was 17 years old, and she only recently turned 18 in June of 2019. But, being this young definitely hasn’t stopped her from dominating against some of the best women in the nation.
Head Coach Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll said that Plata has grown immensely from her first season as a college-level golfer and that improvements like those “come in many ways. It’s not just on the golf course. It can be maturing as a person.”
Plata was ranked 4th on the team during her freshman year, taking her best finish of the 2018-19 season at that year’s Ruth’s Chris Tar Heel Invitational, where she tied for 14th out of 96 individual competitors with now graduated Maria Fassi from Arkansas and current junior Morgan Baxendale from Vanderbilt.
“I was getting it all in. It was really different from junior golf,” Plata said in regards to her freshman season.
She said that this season, she has settled comfortably into the swing of things and is simply playing what she knows is possible with her current knowledge and athletic abilities.
Plata has played in three tournaments so far as a sophomore, two alongside her team and the other as an individual. Her most recent performance was at the 2019 Tar Heel Invitational, where she commanded the course all three days and brought home a huge win for MSU.
To get ready for a competition this important, Plata doesn’t necessarily change her play. “I was pretty confident about my game,” she said. “As the holes went on, the last couple of holes, I started to get a little nervous. I knew it was possible, but at the same time, it was my very first time doing it in college and it was pretty exciting.”
Plata entered the final round of the tournament in a tie for first place.
On Oct. 13, Valery Plata took the individual title for the 2019 Tar Heel Invitational with 11-under-par 205 (69-68-68), topping senior Kenzie Wright from Alabama by two strokes. She is the first Spartan individual medalist at this tournament.
“We’re very proud of her. It’s a pressure situation when you’re coming down the stretch. Even that last day, being in the lead, holding the lead, and finishing. Very exciting for all of us,” Slobodnik-Stoll said.
Plata said she definitely did not expect this kind of win to come this early in her collegiate golf career and she thinks it’s going to give her and her team the chance to get better and gain a higher level of confidence.
The No. 19 Spartans also captured a trophy that day, finishing the tournament in first place with 12-under-par 852 (286-277-289), edging out No. 16 Alabama by a single stroke.
When asked about the remainder of their season, as the golf athletes are coming up to their break in competitions, both Slobodnik-Stoll and Plata said their game plan is to “just keep winning.”
One of the goals Slobodnik-Stoll has set for her girls here at Michigan State is to prove to everyone that they’re one of the best teams in the country. That certainly became evident after the Tar Heel Invitational.
Slobodnik-Stoll said she wants to be able to continue this fiery streak for every tournament they participate in. She’s very assured in her team, keeping the athletes in shape while in the off months from November to February.
“We’re working out five days a week and then they’re practicing every day,” Slobodnik-Stoll said. “For 24 years I’ve told them that just because we do it differently doesn’t mean it’s bad ... We know how we do things. We do things the Michigan State way and it’s worked, and we’ll just keep rolling with that.”
The MSU women’s golf team has one more tournament, The Landfall Tradition in Wilmington, North Carolina, before wrapping up their fall season for the winter months.
Plata said she intends to keep up the hard work she’s put in thus far.
“Whatever tournaments we’re playing in, (I will) try to do the best I can and get the most out of them.”