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Gabbi Ilardi finds right fit with Eastern Washington
Eagles land Ripon's three-time SJS Division IV Tournament champion
Gabbi Ilardi signging
Golf standout Gabbi Ilardi is all smiles after signing her National Letter of Intent with Eastern Washington University last Sunday at Ripon High’s North Gym. Ripon High School/Courtesy Photo

Gabbi Ilardi is enjoying her break from making big life decisions, for now.

Last Sunday, she was joined by family and friends at Ripon High’s North Gym, as the school celebrated her signing to play golf with Eastern Washington University.

She visited the campus in Cheney on Oct. 13 and was offered an athletic scholarship from EWU shortly after. Ilardi waited about four weeks before committing.

Gabbi Ilardi signging
Ripon High senior Gabbi Ilardi, with parents Karina and Rome, signed with Eastern Washington University last Sunday, officiating accepting an offer to continue her standout golf career with the Big Sky Conference school. Ripon High School/Courtesy Photo
“A week before I signed, I was still in contact with other schools,” she said. “It’s a big decision, so I didn’t want to rush. There were a lot of stressful weeks before I made the choice, and I wanted to make sure I made the right one.”

Nevada and CSU Monterey Bay were her other top choices. Eastern Washington wound up being the school she had been looking for. Ilardi had always envisioned herself at a smaller, out-of-state school in a sparsely-populated and scenic region.

“When it came down to it, I was just most comfortable going to this school,” she said. “It was the best fit for me compared to the other options. When I visited, it immediately felt like I was in college. At some other schools, it didn’t feel like it was my home for the next four years, but this school did for me.”

And it turns out EWU has a competitive NCAA Division I women’s golf program. Last year, the Eagles placed fifth out of 11 teams in the Big Sky Conference.

“In the past few years, they’ve broken a few records and have been getting more competitive in the Big Sky,” Ilardi said. “That drew me in, because it shows they’re able to compete. There’s obviously room for improvement, as well, and hopefully I can be a help to their team and maybe increase their chances of doing well in the future.”

Eastern Washington landed a three-time Sac-Joaquin Section Division V Tournament champion and three-time Trans-Valley League MVP. Fourteenth-year Brenda Howe jumped on the opportunity to set up the visit after Ilardi shared her impressive golf and classroom credentials.

She plans on majoring in business management with an eye on a career as a head pro for a golf club.

“I loved the campus, loved the team and the coaches and got to see all the golf courses that they play on,” Ilardi said of her visit. “I got a good feel for their environment.”

Also a standout centerback, Ilardi — the TVL’s reigning Most Valuable Defender — is preparing for the start of the soccer season. She still finds the time to keep her golf game sharp and will return to the junior tournament circuit in the spring, but with far less worry about the results.

“It definitely felt like a weight off my shoulders,” she said of signing. “I played in a tournament this past weekend, and I got to play with other seniors who have committed. We were talking about how we just feel like we can play golf for fun again, because all throughout our junior careers we have been trying to impress college coaches. You always try to shoot for low scores and beat yourself, but there’s that added pressure.

“Getting to play that first tournament since signing, it was like experience a whole different aspect of the game. It was kind of cool to feel what that was like after I signed.”