Not many players include “snowy winters” on their checklist for prospective colleges. Then again, not many NCAA athletes hail from Nakhabino, Russia.
Fortunately for Washington State coach Walt Williams, Anastasia and Maria Kostina can’t get enough of the four seasons. The Russian sister act wouldn’t dare brave the heat of Arizona or the sticky South.
For the Kostinas, Pullman, Wash. – winter population 27,000 – is paradise.
After both sisters sat out the first half of the 2003-04 season because of compliance questions regarding their reimbursement of expenses with the Russian National Team, they were cleared for the spring season. Anastasia, 19, who studied at the Russian Sports Academy and came to WSU as a sophomore, settled in to record four top-15 finishes. Maria, 21, a staple in the Cougars lineup since fall 2002, notched a pair of top 25s.
Team captain Kim Welch, the long-bombing Californian who won five tournaments last season, seemed destined to have a scorching senior year. It was the 6-foot Anastasia, however, who towered over West Coast fields this past fall.
“She plays within her abilities, which a lot of people don’t,” Williams said of Anastasia. “She’s extremely strong mentally.”
Anastasia closed the first half of the season No. 7 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. Welch, who struggled with a grip change, stumbled to 165th after finishing No. 23 last spring.
Still, the Cougars managed to take down a number of big-name schools in their last two events of 2004. Anastasia tied for third at the Edean Ihlanfeldt Invitational, and the team tied
for seventh, ahead of Stanford and California.
Eleven days later, the reigning Russian Amateur champion topped a stacked Stanford Intercollegiate field for her first college title. The Cougars came in sixth, beating New Mexico, Tulsa, Arizona, Texas, Southern California and Vanderbilt.
“I’m enjoying golf much more now,” said Anastasia. “I’m loving every single minute on the golf course and it helps a lot.”
The athletic Kostina sisters first caught wind of the game when Moscow Country Club opened its doors in 1994. Anastasia worked at Russia’s only 18-hole facility in return for playing privileges before following her sister to Pullman.
Williams said he considers Anastasia’s overall consistency to be the greatest strength of her game. Maria’s tendency to lose shots to the left is what separates the two on the course. On campus, however, Williams says the Kostinas are rarely apart.
This spring, the siblings are carrying an identical class load. The psychology majors live next door to each other, share notes, meals, practice rounds and the same circle of friends. It’s a bond that helps ease the cravings for their grandmother’s cooking and Russian chocolate.
In their final semester, Maria Kostina and Welch will seek to lead the Cougars to their second NCAA Championship appearance in three years. Williams said he expects Welch to return to form and join the Kostinas for a strong postseason run.
“She’s always played better in the spring than in the fall,” Williams said of Welch. “We expect her and Ana to be as good a 1-2 as probably most people in the country.”
The Kostinas, however, aren’t aching for the winter to melt away just yet. For them, snowfalls are a Pullman perk.