Eight Iowa Conference championships
PELLA — With five returning starters and the largest freshman class in head coach Tim Wilkinson’s tenure, the Central women’s golf program will have one of its strongest lineups in recent years in 2014.
For the third time in four seasons under Wilkinson, the Dutch secured a second-place finish in the Iowa Conference in 2013 behind all-Iowa Conference honorees Taylor Hill and Kelsey Van Tasell, both seniors this fall. Hill, who received the Maurine Timmer MVP Award for a second consecutive season in 2013, has twice been named to the Women’s Golf Association All-American Scholars team.
“Taylor has been a tremendous part of our scoring average,” Wilkinson said. “She does a phenomenal job of balancing academics and athletics and she works very hard at everything she does. Taylor has continued to work on her game over the years and I think she’s excited about the upcoming year. I expect Taylor to get back to where she was two years ago and to have a really rewarding senior campaign.”
A two-time all-Iowa Conference selection (2012, 2013), Van Tasell studied abroad during the 2014 spring season, but averaged an 85.3 in the fall. The senior carded two top-10 finishes including a 10th-place finish at the conference tournament.
“As seniors, I think there’s a sense of urgency for both Kelsey and Taylor,” Wilkinson said. “Both players are ready to make that one last push to end their golf careers on a real positive note.”
Juniors Rachel Cassens and Chelsey Shuey and sophomore Ali Kallsen round out the top five for the Dutch.
A two-year starter and the 2012 co-Most Valuable Freshman Award recipient, Shuey recorded three top-20 and two top-10 finishes last year.
“Chelsey has always been fairly consistent for us,” Wilkinson said. “We’ve always been able to count on her to finish in that fourth or fifth spot for us scoring wise.”
Cassens made the most noticeable improvements to her game last season, trimming nearly 16 strokes off her freshman average from the previous season. Cassens, who shot a career-best 86 in the second round of the conference tournament, averaged 91.4.
“Rachel cut about 15 or 16 strokes last year off her freshman scoring average, so she was playing as our No. 3 golfer in the fall and our No. 2 in the spring when Kelsey was studying abroad,” Wilkinson said. “Rachel is playing a lot closer to what I think her ability is.”
Kallsen was perhaps the biggest surprise last season. The sophomore carded a career-best 82 on the second day of the league tourney, finishing tied for 16th. Kallsen, whose career-best finish (12th) came at the Central Fall Invitational, averaged 93.4 her freshman year.
“Ali was a complete surprise last year,” Wilkinson said. “She was a state qualifier as a senior in high school, but she surprised me with what she was able to do her freshman year against the competition. Ali was a big part of us finishing ahead of Luther at last year’s conference tournament. I’m excited to see what kind of improvement she has made and I’m hopeful she can continue to help us.”
Alongside Central’s veterans is a freshman class of six.
“Top to bottom, this is not only largest freshman class that we’ve had since I’ve been here but it’s also our most talented,” Wilkinson.
That rookie class along with five returning starters has Wilkinson optimistic about his team’s chances of closing the gap atop the league standings.
“I feel that we should have the ability to close the gap between us and the top of the conference,” he said. “I would love to see us get back to where we were a few years ago where we were within five or 10 strokes of the lead after the first weekend of the conference tournament. Our goal is to be in contention after the first weekend.”
The 2014 calendar has the Dutch staying in state throughout the fall. Central opens Aug. 29 at The Sail Classic at Pheasant Ridge Golf Club in Cedar Falls.
The Dutch host one event with the annual Central Fall Invitational on Sept. 13 at Bos Landen Golf Club.
“Much of our schedule is really gearing towards our conference tournament,” Wilkinson said. “We’ll be playing at Pheasant Ridge at least two times, so it’s important that we get as much time out at that course as possible, especially with the large freshman class that we have incoming.
“I feel like with the schedule we have this year, if we play well, we’ll be in contention throughout the year. We’ll be seeing a lot more regional opponents this year than in years past, so it’s important for our players to get a sense of what it means to compete and be in contention for a win.”
Dubuque will play host to the league tourney, with the final two rounds Oct. 3-4 at Dubuque Golf and Country Club, preceded by 36 holes, Sept. 26-27 once again at Pheasant Ridge Golf Club in Cedar Falls. The Dutch will make three trips to Pheasant Ridge in the six-week season.
Central will continue to call the rugged Bos Landen Golf Club as its home course.
“Bos is a phenomenal facility,” Wilkinson said. “The course is a challenging one, and we don’t play anywhere harder than Bos. I think playing at Bos gives our golfers the confidence that they need and it makes them focus on what they are doing.”
In addition to Bos Landen, Central is home to one of the only on-campus golf facilities in Division III. Opened in 2005, the Ryerson Range includes 20 tee boxes, several target greens and two putting greens and bunkers.
“With our roster size being the way it is, it’s a real benefit for us to be able to have a practice facility like we do,” Wilkinson said. “We’re able to set up practice the way we want to and we’re able to utilize it the way we want to.”