The women’s golf team has had impressive seasons in recent years. It has placed first or second in the last nine MIAC championships and its top player, junior Laura Heck, has received numerous honors as the team has consistently been invited to nationals.
This season, however, the women will have to overcome many challenges if they want to repeat the successes of the past.
“It’s going to be a different year,” coach Sara Evens said. “The biggest challenge is our low numbers due to injuries and various other things.”
Only seven women are on the team this season, and of those seven, two are currently injured and unable to play in tournaments. Heck is recovering from spinal surgery and sophomore Brittany Spanier is recovering from hip surgery.
Two other women tried out and made the team, but later decided not to play due to scheduling conflicts, Evens said.
“We’re going to have to see how the girls respond to being without [Heck],” Evens said. “Due to the low numbers, there will be a lot more pressure on the top four or five girls to really perform.”
For the first tournament of the season, the UW-Eau Claire tournament on Sept. 5 and 6, the team only brought four players. Teams usually brings five golfers, but only the best four scores are counted in the team score. Without a fifth golfer, there was much less room for error.
St. Thomas took 10th out of 21 teams with a team score of 700. Last season the Tommies scored 661 and took third place at the same tournament. This season, Gustavus took first with a 630 and beat second-place Eau Claire by three strokes. Senior Katie Mich shot the lowest score, a 169, for the Tommies, to come in 24th out of 111 players.
Senior captain Amy Anderson said having so few players is tough on the team.
“It hurts our morale knowing we don’t have enough people,” Anderson said. “We don’t have other players to cycle in and out like other teams. Plus we don’t have Laura’s scores to count on. We’ll have to make due without her for a while.”
Heck said she is hoping to rejoin the team by the third week in September.
“After I start playing again it will probably take a few days to get back to my normal level of play,” Heck said. “I haven’t hit a golf ball all summer.”
Another challenge for the team is a lack of returning players.
“We have a lot of new people, which can be tough,” Heck said. “But I know the freshmen had great high school careers and hopefully their experience will carry over.”
Evens said the freshmen have a lot to add to the team. According to Evens, one new player to watch could be freshman Cassy Norton, who played well in high school and has been solid in practices.
“The first tournament will get rid of the new players’ nerves,” Evens said. “After that they will be able to play to the best of their ability.”
The team will travel to Wartburg on Sept. 12 to play a two-day tournament with teams from around the Midwest. Last year, they took fourth out of 17 teams behind Gustavus, Illinois Wesleyan and Wartburg.
“I’m looking forward to Wartburg because we’re really familiar with the course,” Anderson said. “We played there six times in a week two years ago for nationals. We hope to finish in the top five and maybe take first or second.”
After the Wartburg tournament, the team has the Division III Classic Sept. 19 and 20, and the SW Minn. State Mustang Invite Sept. 26 and 27.
Heck said if the team focuses and stays levelheaded, they have a chance of winning the tournaments, even with the odds stacked against them.
“We need to work on staying focused for all 18 holes,” Heck said. “We just need to use our strengths. We have good short and mid-range shots because that’s what we spend the most time on in practice – putting and chipping.”
Although the season has barely begun, the team already has set their sights on the MIAC Championship, which begins Oct. 3.
“Winning the MIAC gets us an automatic bid to nationals,” Heck said. “But we have to have strong showings every weekend too just in case. We have to be on our ‘A’ game.”
Katie Broadwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org