Head Coach: Brett Muller (7th year)
2016-17 GPAC Finish: 8th (386-378-377-368–1,509)
Key Returners: Paighton Barbre (So.); Madison Pitsch (Jr.); Payton DeMers-Sahling (So.); Murphy Sears (So.).
Key Newcomers: Gabrielle Coviello; Rebecca Day; Haley Nolde.
Key Loss: Amy Ahlers.
2017 GPAC All-Conference: Amy Ahlers (1st; golfer of the year); Murphy Sears (11th).
It’s now life after Amy Ahlers, the most accomplished player in the history of Concordia women’s golf. Ahlers went out in style, winning the GPAC title, garnering GPAC golfer of the year accolades and earning a berth to the national championships. Though Ahlers has moved on to a career in elementary teaching, her influence as a role model will carry on with the returning players.
Seventh-year head coach Brett Muller wouldn’t mind if somehow Ahlers’ golf game also rubbed off on this year’s team.
“Amy was just a great leader, on and off the course,” Muller said. “She put in countless hours before and after practice. I hope they learn from her work ethic and just how she went about everything the right way, being a leader in the classroom as well. She got stuff done.”
With Ahlers having departed, sophomore Murphy Sears assumes the No. 1 spot in the lineup. Sears got a taste of what the national championships are like having accompanied Ahlers to West Palm Beach, Fla., back in March. If Sears can harness her play from the final round (career best 81) at the GPAC championships, she’ll give herself a shot a punching a ticket of her own to the national championships someday.
A native of Crete, Neb., Sears turned in a season average of 86.93 over 15 rounds as a freshman. She placed in the top 10 of three tournaments and earned all-conference recognition alongside Ahlers. The signing of Sears was a major recruiting victory for Muller and the program.
“I think Murphy learned a lot her first year,” Muller said. “Obviously there’s a jump from high school golf to college golf with the yardage and playing with better players. I think she settled in and definitely proved at the last GPAC at Quail Run that she can compete at a high level and she can contend for a GPAC championship.”
Sears says she spent the summer zeroing in on bettering her short game. She believes that work will help move her up from her 11th place positioning in the GPAC as a freshman.
“This summer I tried to focus a lot on my short game, 100 yards and in and my putting also,” Sears said. “I had to switch my stroke a bit from last season. As long as my long game is on and I just keep practicing my short game, everything should come together.”
The question marks come behind Sears. Muller returns experienced players in sophomore Payton DeMers-Sahling, junior Madison Pitsch and sophomore Paighton Barbre. DeMers-Sahling competed in all nine of the team’s events last season and ranks second to Sears in terms of returners with the top season averages in 2016-17.
In order for the Bulldogs to improve upon their eighth place GPAC finish, they will need a shot in the arm from the newcomers. The freshman class is made up of Gabrielle Coviello, Rebecca Day and Haley Nolde.
“I think any of those three coming in with the freshman class could definitely push for one of the top five spots,” Muller said. “It’s just trying to find consistency with those spots to lower our scoring average.”
There may be some uncertainty in the lineup, but Muller knows for sure he can count on Sears, a rising star in GPAC golf.
“That built my confidence a lot,” said Sears of how she finished her freshman season. “I just realized that I can do it. I’m able to shoot low scores when I have my swing on point. I wish we had a few more tournaments after that round. This year I think I’ll be able to have more rounds like that.”
The season opens up on Thursday, Aug. 31 with the two-day Mount Marty Invite. The event will take place at Fox Run Golf Course in Yankton, S.D. It will be a homecoming of sorts for new graduate assistant Logan Wagner, who played both basketball and golf at Mount Marty. The GPAC Fall Championships are scheduled for Oct. 9-10 in Vermillion, S.D.