– As Erin Kopinak's scores plummeted last summer, her ambitions soared.
She sensed after shooting 89 for an early-season tournament win that golf could take her places.
"It kind of opened my eyes and I thought maybe I do have the potential to do something with it and make it far," said the 18-year-old from Wheatley.
Kopinak will be going all the way to Lorman, Miss., after signing with Alcorn State University.
The Tilbury District High School student never expected an NCAA Division I scholarship after joining a recruiting service last year. Division III maybe, but not Division I.
"Even last year, if you'd asked me if I thought I'd get a scholarship, full-ride to Mississippi, I'd have said you were crazy. You have the wrong girl," she said after a signing ceremony Tuesday. "It's all happened so quick."
Kopinak captured the Southland Insurance Junior Tour's overall championship last year. It was her third year on the tour and by far her best.
She won six of nine tour stops, lowering her best score at several courses by double-digits. Her scoring average was 89.44.
"A couple years ago I was shooting 120 and I was hitting the ball for fun," she said. "Now I'm shooting 88 and having as much fun. Probably more fun because I'm not taking eight strokes on a hole."
Alcorn State Braves head coach Andrew MacBean heard about Kopinak from her swing coach, Don Harrison. She spoke with other colleges but felt at home during her visit to Lorman.
"After my evaluation, I would classify Erin as the total package," MacBean wrote in an e-mail. "She is bright, hungry, coachable and has the playing background we look for here at ASU.
"She also comes from a great family. After having Erin and her parents, Karri and John, visit campus, it's easy to see why Erin is a quality person."
Kopinak plays out of Tilbury Golf Club and Talbot Trail Golf Club.
She began when she was eight, but she only got competitive three years ago. That's also when she began working with Harrison.
She knew how to hit, but not much else, when they met. She had to learn how to prepare for a round and study a course.
"My coach, Don, he really decided to push me," she said about last year. "I didn't think I was gaining as much knowledge as I was. Then I got out on the course and put a tee down. I didn't think it would work as much as he said it would. But everything was clicking. I didn't expect to be playing that well."
There's still plenty of room for improvement, Harrison said, and Mississippi is a great venue for that to happen.
"She has all the learning potential to be an even better player this summer," he said. "Then she'll be in a position where she can golf 11, 12 months a year. … You automatically can become better because you're hitting balls all the time."
Harrison wants to add four or five shots to her bag before she leaves for school, where she'll major in biology. She'll also try to defend her Southland tour championship this summer.
COURTESY ALCORN STATE UNIVERSITY ATHLETICS MEDIA RELATIONS