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SEASON PREVIEW: 2015-16 men's and women's golf

By Jake Knabel on Aug. 30, 2015 in Men's Golf

MEN
Head Coach: Brett Muller (5th year)
2014-15 GPAC Finish: 6th (300-312-337-306–1,255)
Key Returners: Brock Colclasure (Sr.); Payton DeVencenty (So.); Tyelr Ehresman (So.); Jared Knoepfel (Jr.); Russell Otten (So.); Sam Simonson (Sr.); Garrett Suchanek (Sr.)
Key Newcomers: Nolan Zikas
Key Losses: Shawn Rodehorst
2015 GPAC All-Conference: Shawn Rodehorst (T-18th – 73-79-86-75–313); Reid Wiebe (T-16th – 75-82-82-73–312) 

WOMEN
Head Coach: Brett Muller (5th year)
2014-15 GPAC Finish: 5th (343-367-353-361–1,424)
Key Returners: Amy Ahlers (Jr.); Brenna Gnuse (So.); Emma Jacoby (So.); Kayla Krueger (Jr.); Ashlen Pospisil (So.)
2015 GPAC All-Conference: Amy Ahlers (T-2nd – 78-84-83-85–330); Emma Jacoby (T-7th – 82-81-89-88–340); Kayla Krueger (T-14th – 83-91-88-94–356)

Outlook
Both Concordia golf programs continued their ascent in the league standings in 2014-15. Now in his fifth season, head coach Brett Muller expects his squads to produce even better results throughout the 2015-16 campaign. The Bulldog men say goodbye to three-time all-conference performer Shawn Rodehorst (now the program’s graduate assistant coach), but most of the top players are back on both sides of the coin.

Despite Rodehorst’s graduation, Concordia has high expectations thanks in part to the return of junior Reid Wiebe and sophomore Russell Otten. With their emergence last season, the Bulldogs broke the program record for lowest single-season average (317.1) and equaled the school single-round record by shooting a 300 at back-to-back meets during the fall season.

Muller will have plenty of additional options to fill his five-player varsity men’s lineup at this season’s biggest tournaments. Says Wiebe, “We’re definitely on the rise. I think we have a lot of good guys and a lot of pieces to fill in this year. We’ll see where things go. The sky’s the limit for us. It depends on how hard we work.”

Wiebe, a transfer from NCAA Division I University of Nebraska Omaha, powers the ball off the tee better than anyone in the GPAC. He averaged a 77.7 over 15 rounds last season with a season low of 72. He placed inside the top 10 in three tournaments and provided Muller with another legitimate top-of-the-lineup stalwart.

Otten will give Wiebe a run for the No. 1 slot. Otten finished 11th in the GPAC as a freshman. He turned in scores of 77 or lower in three of the four conference qualifiers. Otten and Wiebe were the only two Bulldogs to navigate all 15 rounds last season.

“Both Reid and Russell are very solid players,” Muller said. “This year I look for those two guys to compete for the No. 1 spot. They’re very close on and off the course and very similar to the relationship that Amy (Ahlers) and Emma (Jacoby) had last year. I think it will really drive them in practice.”

Beyond Wiebe and Otten, another five returning Bulldogs competed in seven or more varsity rounds last season and will figure into the mix this fall and spring. Sophomore Tyler Ehresman (82.5) played in nine of 10 tournaments as a freshman and often competed at the No. 4 spot. The lineup may also include a combination of the likes of junior Court Croghan, sophomore Payton DeVencenty, junior Jared Knoepfel and seniors such as Matt Otten, Sam Simonson and Garrett Suchanek.

Among newcomers, Muller has been most impressed with La Vista, Neb., native Nolan Zikas, a third-place finisher at this past state tournament at the Nebraska Class A level.

The wealth of options gives Wiebe reason to be confident. Says the Sutton, Neb., native, “Our expectations are to win every tournament and it starts with the first one. If you don’t win the first one you can’t win them all.”

On the women’s side, few returning players in the GPAC can match the accomplishments of Concordia junior Amy Ahlers who has placed in the top five of the conference standings in each of her first two seasons and has five tournament victories to her credit. She’s the leader of a rock-solid top three Bulldog grouping that includes fellow junior Kayla Krueger and sophomore Emma Jacoby.

Krueger and Jacoby joined Ahlers on the 2015 GPAC all-conference team. Muller will count on his dynamic trio again in 2015-16. Says Muller, “Our top three will be very similar to (defending conference champion) Dakota Wesleyan’s top three. We just need to get some consistency from everybody.”

Ahlers, who has always placed high expectations upon herself, felt unsatisfied with her performance at last year’s final GPAC qualifier when she missed a chance at winning the individual conference title. Ahlers says she mostly needs to improve her mental game, which could lead to an even lower average than her school record-tying figure of 82.0 as a sophomore.

“Sometimes I get to tournaments and I’m not confident,” Ahlers said. “If you don’t have confidence in golf it shows. The last GPAC round I played with (Dakota Wesleyan’s) Lauren Fitts and she’s a great player. She’s won the conference two years. I was scared. I was like, ‘she’s the defending conference champion, you know.’ You can’t have that mindset going into it. Moving forward I want to strengthen up that mental game and know that I can hold my own ground. I can do it.”

A sharp mental game for Concordia’s star from Albion, Neb., will go a long way towards reaching the team goal of a top-two conference finish that would land a berth into the 2016 national tournament. The Bulldogs remained in the hunt for such a lofty finish last season before a disappointing GPAC No. 4. With its entire five-person lineup back, expectations are at their highest since Muller took over the women’s program.

Not only is Concordia climbing the GPAC standings (from 11th to sixth to fifth over the last three years), it is also one of the nation’s hardest working squads in the classroom. The 2014-15 Bulldogs ranked fifth nationally among all women’s golf programs in terms of team GPA.

“They mean everything,” Ahlers said of the team accomplishments. “That’s one thing about being a student-athlete, you’re a student, too. Classes are important and they always have been to me. To be surrounded by a group of girls that care about their grades as much as I do, it’s great. It’s so fun to be in that atmosphere and be around them. I’m so proud of them.”

Concordia’s success will also depend upon the improvement of sophomores Brenna Gnuse and Ashlen Pospisil, both regulars in last year’s lineup. Pospisil carded a season low 88 at the Briar Cliff Fall Classic and Gnuse turned in a low of 91 at the same tournament. More performances like that will help push the Bulldogs up another peg in the league race.

“I think on the women’s side we definitely grew as a team,” Muller said. “It was a great experience for us. We were right in the mix going into the final GPAC qualifier. Obviously it didn’t go as well as we would have liked it to go but I think we’re going to gain from that experience moving forward.”

Driven on and off the course, Muller’s squads appear poised to build upon record-breaking seasons a year ago. With four combined all-conference players (and another near miss) back in the fold, Concordia golf finds optimism easy to come by heading into 2015-16.

Season-opening events
--WOMEN: Monday, Aug. 31 at Midland Invite (Fremont GC)
--MEN: Thursday/Friday, Sept. 3-4 at Mount Marty Invite (Fox Run GC/Hillcrest CC)