Kristen Hansen was a relative unknown for Western Washington University's golf team more than a year ago.
It wasn't necessarily because she had flown beneath the radar. She was a freshman playing in her first collegiate tournament, leaving every nuance of her game a complete question mark.
Bo Stephan, the Vikings' coach, didn't know how she would perform. The pressure gets to some, he said in a phone interview, Hansen being no exception to his early speculations.
Turns out she was in fact the exception, and he knew almost immediately.
Hansen carded a 1-under-par second round at the Angelo State University Concho River Classic in September 2012, finishing in a tie for 13th at her first collegiate tournament.
"Never. Not since I've been here. Never seen anybody look that good," said Stephan when asked of Hansen's performance in comparison to other freshmen he's coached. "I'm licking my chops. Four under par on the front nine. She showed right away."
She hasn't, since that spectacular second round, been overlooked.
"I was definitely nervous," she said in a phone interview. "Everybody is really concentrated on their game. A lot more competitive and a little intimidating."
Hansen went on to earn Great Northwest Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year honors, and she suffered nothing by way of a sophomore slump. This year she led the conference with a league-best 77.5 stroke average, earning her yet another award, this time being the 2013-14 GNAC Women's Golfer of the Year after pacing WWU's run to a third straight league crown.
And although the Vikings didn't do enough as a team to earn a bid into the West Super Regionals, Hansen, as an individual, did, earning a lone berth when the tournament begins Monday, May 5, in Mansfield, Texas.
At the heart of her success this season hasn't necessarily been one defining performance, but rather her ability to be consistent.
"I knew I had to come out and play strong every tournament," Hansen said. "I wanted to personally put my all into every tournament, not wasting a stroke."
What she gained in experience over the past year spoke the her heightened understanding of how each shot is more important. Stephan called her a "student of the game," referring to her acute attention to detail that's been so paramount to her success this year.
Particularly, he said she has a wide array of shots to pull from, making her dangerous from any part of a given course.
"She genuinely puts some thought into working a ball into a hole location," Stephan said. "All players of every gender have it to hit shots at different trajectories and heights, and she's able to do that awkward 40-yard pitch."
She takes pride in that fact, and it hasn't led her astray quite yet. The only thing missing is a win, although six top-10 finishes this year, including a third-place finish at the GNAC tournament, have had to suffice.
And yet she will be in an unfamiliar situation come super regionals, taking on the field not necessarily as a Viking, but as an individual. The three top teams from the region will be represented, with Hansen and two other golfers being chosen to compete alone.
"A little bit more pressure being the only one representing Western," she said. "(I'm) really trying to do the best that I can."
Hansen's a believer in visualizing a shot before ever taking it. Her routine before each one is the same, she said, nothing dramatic or overblown.
She tries to imagine the flight of the ball off her club, the height it takes and curvature she needs to strike it with.
"Doing that takes your mind off the pressure and any distractions you may be thinking of," she said. "I take a deep breath, look at the line I want to hit and step up."
The best part, Stephan said, is that he has two more years of watching her play, with him and WWU's team reaping the benefits of her talent and leadership.
Reach Alex Bigelow at email@example.com or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.
DIVISION II WOMEN'S GOLF SUPER REGIONALS
When: Monday, May 5 through Wednesday, May 7
Where: Mansfield Country Club in Mansfield, Texas