Eight Iowa Conference championships
2014 Iowa Conference finish: Second
Starters lost: 1 (Kelsey Van Tasell)
Starters returning: 4 (Christine Ausman, Rachel Cassens, Chelsey Shuey, Molly Timmerman)
Letterwinners lost/returning: 2/7
Returning all-Iowa Conference players: 2 (Christine Ausman, Chelsey Shuey)
With four of its top five back, and a healthy return of one of its top players after a year’s absence, the Central College women’s golf team is well-positioned to again be an Iowa Conference contender.
Last fall the Dutch finished in second place for the fourth time in five years, with three players earning all-conference status. Two of those players, sophomore Christine Ausman and senior Chelsey Shuey, return and are joined by Taylor Hill who was an all-conference player in 2013, before sitting out 2014 due to injury and illness. Assuming she can get back to where she was when she was Central’s top player in 2013, Hill could be a huge boon to the Dutch.
“If she can stay healthy, I think she gives us a huge advantage in making a run at the conference championship,” Wilkinson said. “When she’s healthy, Taylor is certainly one of the best golfers in our conference. It would be great to see her reach her goals this year.”
A 27th--place finisher in the league tournament her first two seasons, Shuey made a huge leap to seventh as a junior. She had a competitive stroke average of 86.2 last fall, but struggled a little in the abbreviated spring season. Shuey worked hard all summer to make the best of her senior year.
“Her improvement was incredible,” Wilkinson said. “She didn’t have the spring that she wanted to, but I know that she’s putting in the time right now to take another step forward in her scoring. I would anticipate that Chelsey will be ready to go and help us with our team score.”
A ninth-place finish at the conference championships meant that Ausman finished as the top freshman in the league. Ausman, who had a season average of 88.0, is fighting to be the top golfer in the conference, regardless of class.
“When she left for the summer, she said that she wanted to be a top golfer in our conference,” Wilkinson said. “Her potential is unlimited because she hits the ball a long way and her short game has improved. If she can get it all together on a consistent basis, then she’s going to be a couple of notches ahead of where she was last year.”
The last time Rachel Cassens donned the Red and White, she placed 13th in the league tourney. After a spring semester studying with Central’s metropolitan studies program in Chicago, Cassens will try to improve upon last fall’s 90.0 stroke average.
“I’m really interested to see what her game looks like now,” Wilkinson said. “She not only missed the spring semester, but she’s also had an internship all summer. I know that she’s playing, but I’m not quite sure how much. I know that she really wants to make all-conference, and I think she’s driven enough that she’ll be working towards that.”
Beyond Ausman, the five other members of the freshman class had chances to compete at multiple meets last season. All five made appearances in the top five at some point, but Cierra Pulse and Molly Timmerman may have a leg up on their classmates.
“Cierra and Molly have a little bit of an advantage because they played in the top five at conference last fall,” Wilkinson said. “They know what that experience is like. They know how higher stress situation affects them.”
Wilkinson also cited sophomore Alison Kretzinger as a name to watch this fall. After a solid high school career, Kretzinger took a while to adjust to the college game. Wilkinson believes she has the ability to make an impact in year two.
“Besides Christine, of all the freshmen that came in, Alison probably had the best high school career,” he said. “She struggled a lot last year, like Rachel did as a freshman, and it was kind of unexplainable. Rachel rebounded her sophomore season and I’m kind of expecting the same thing from Alison.”
The most unheralded member of Central’s senior class is Nichole Malott, the two-time winner of the team’s Outstanding Attitude Award.
“Nichole has been a phenomenal member of our team,” Wilkinson said. “Even though she hasn’t necessarily contributed on the course by being in our top five, her enthusiasm that she has for the team is second to none.”
After bringing in a large class last season that helped increase the roster size, Wilkinson was able to focus on bringing in top talent. Wilkinson believes he found just that with his two recruits, Brittany Coppess and Carly Jacobs, both of whom placed at the Iowa state tournament for their high school teams.
“They provide a lot of talent,” he said. “Without putting too much pressure on them, I expect them to step in and be ready to go and push some of our returners.”
The Dutch start the 2015 season with three straight weekend tournaments.
“The first tournament will be important for us to see who’s doing what,” Wilkinson said. “An open week before the conference tournament could lend itself to practice rounds at either Thunder Hills (in Dubuque) or Pheasant Ridge (in Cedar Falls), she two courses that will host the conference tournament.”
While Wilkinson is quietly harboring hopes of an elusive league crown, perennial NCAA contender Wartburg remains a solid favorite after rolling to its eighth straight title last season
“My hope is that we will be closer to challenging Wartburg for the conference title,” Wilkinson said. “I feel like the traditional top three or four schools will be there again and hopefully we’ll see a little more depth throughout the conference.
The Dutch have unlimited access to the Ryerson Range, an on-campus facility with 20 tee boxes, several target greens and two chipping greens and bunkers. Coupled with access to Bos Landen Golf Club, which received a four-star rating from Golf Digest, Central’s golf programs have resources not widely found at the collegiate level.
“The driving range has been invaluable,” Wilkinson said. “We have the space to set up for practice however we want. It gives the team the flexibility to practice when it works best for them. It allows them to be as good as they want to be. That goes for Bos Landen, too. We have the ability to go out and there and play whenever we want and we’re extremely grateful for the relationship we have with them.”