By Daniel Kerwin
Journal Sports Writer
NEW ULM - The New Ulm boys' and girls' golf teams have been used to having an influx of younger players in recent years.
Staff photo by Daniel Kerwin
Both the New Ulm boys’ and girls’ golf teams return all of their top players from last year, including (from left to right) Jonah Cooper, Corinne McKeeth, Josh Cooper, Tasha Holm, Matt Saffert and Kendra Clyne.
This season is no exception. The Eagle boys have only three seniors on the roster, while the girls have no seniors on the team for the second year in a row.
The good thing for both teams is that they returned almost their entire rosters from a year ago, meaning that although both teams may be young in age, they both have a number of experienced players leading the way. The result should be that both teams see some big improvements this season.
Eagle boys shooting for the top
Last season the New Ulm boys' golf team felt it possessed enough talent to make a run at winning both the South Central Conference title and at qualifying for the state tournament as a team.
The Eagles fell short of those goals a season ago, with Waseca earning both the SCC and section titles, but this year those same goals seem even more attainable to the team that they did last year.
"We should be stronger than last year, because we didn't lose anybody and we can only get better," junior Matt Saffert said.
The Eagles had only one senior on the team last year, who played mostly on the JV side, so the team's core group of players remains intact from last season.
"It's all pretty much the same, except everybody has an extra year of experience under their belt," sophomore Jonah Cooper said.
The team currently has some lively competition for its varsity spots, with eight players that had varsity experience last year leading the charge.
"I have those same eight guys that are looking good, and a couple other guys that are right there right just behind them," head coach Dan Janke said. "They might bump up and challenge some of those guys."
Cooper was the lone member of the team to reach the state tournament as an individual last season. After a hot finish last year propelled him from fighting for a varsity spot to competing at state, he's hoping to continue his strong play heading into this season.
"There's a lot of pressure to return [to state]," Cooper said. "It will be just as hard, probably. I'll see how much I've improved since last year."
The team returns another former state tournament participant in junior Kelton Schmitz, who went to state in 2011. Other top players that are returning for the Eagles include Saffert, senior Josh Cooper, sophomore Colin Huffman, juniors Peder Johnson and Tanner Zupfer and freshman Ethan Kraus.
Returning so much talent makes the Eagles a heavy favorite in the section, especially since Waseca graduated its top three players from last season.
"We have a lot better chance this year than last year, because our section got a little bit easier, because Waseca lost a few players," Saffert said. "We've only gotten stronger."
A big focus for the team this year will be maintaining consistency throughout the season. Last year, a number of players showed flashes of strong play, but the team was plagued by some weaker play at inopportune times, including at the end of the season.
"Sometimes we shoot well, but sometimes we may not have a very good meet," Josh Cooper said. "We may lose it because maybe two or three guys shoot in the 90s or something, that doesn't help us out."
Janke is confident that the players learned what it takes to be successful last year and know that they are capable of doing it. They just need to make sure they can execute when it counts.
"They know the routine, they know what we're striving for, they know the competition," Janke said. "They're excited to be back and kind of take everybody up to the next level."
The boys' team is scheduled to open the season April 13 in Marshall.
Eagle girls focusing on fun and improvement
The New Ulm girls' golf team was young to an extreme last year, with the oldest players on the team being sophomores.
Despite the handicap that being so young gave the team during competitions, the biggest positive from last season was that the players were able to develop strong team chemistry that will carry on into this season.
"A lot of us high schoolers kind of carried on that bond into this year," sophomore Corinne McKeeth said. "We've just got to get used to all the younger girls and getting closer to them."
This year the team has grown in size to 20 players, with 13 of the players in ninth grade or above. With more players vying for varsity spots, head coach Todd McKeeth feels that the players will benefit from the competition.
"We should have a full varsity and B-squad every match, which makes it nice," Todd McKeeth said. "So they have to work a little bit to keep a spot, somebody has to stay home all the time, so you don't want to be that one that gets bumped out. I'm hoping that will be good for the team, just to make everybody work a little harder."
Corinne McKeeth and junior Tasha Holm both advanced to sections last year, with junior Kendra Clyne falling a single shot shy of joining them. The team's other veterans include junior Julia Schaefer, sophomore Miriam Jakel and sophomore Emily Hartman. There are also seven freshmen that could be in the mix to land a varsity spot by the end of the season.
With a much more experienced lineup than a year ago, Clyne feels that the team should feel more comfortable in tournaments than it did last year.
"I think last year during tournaments and stuff it was kind of intimidating for us, because we were so young, and everyone we were playing against were older than us and had more experience," Clyne said. "But that should be better this year."
"I don't think we had as much confidence last year as we do this year," Holm added.
Though the team isn't ready this season to set goals of realistically competing for the top of the conference, the team is focusing on the little things - having fun with the game and improving throughout the season.
"We're a lot of fun and we like to make memories," Corinne McKeeth said. "Even though we're not always in it for the competition, we just like to have fun, and we like to improve, and we're confident."
In addition to judging the success of their season based on their scores on the course, the team also emphasizes creating lasting memories along the way.
"We have a memory book full of memories from past years," Corinne McKeeth said. "We like to show it to the younger girls to see how much fun we had."
"So whenever something funny happens, we just go, 'Grab the book,' and we've got to write it down," Clyne added.
With the team likely to return its entire lineup next year, Todd McKeeth hopes that the positive culture that the team has developed will continue to endure.
"I think everybody's enjoying it and having fun, which is really important," McKeeth said. "We're still young, we're still growing, but we showed some nice growth last year and I just hope we can keep that going."
The Eagles are scheduled to open their season by hosting the Eagle Invite at New Ulm Country Club on April 11.