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Season preview: 2018-19 Concordia men's golf

By Jake Knabel on Aug. 27, 2018 in Men's Golf

Head Coach: Brett Muller (8th year)
2017-18 GPAC Finish: 5th (288-295-311-308–1,202)
Key Returners:  Tylar Samek (Jr.); Nolan Zikas (Sr.).
Key Newcomers: Devin Koob; Joshua Schaefer; Colton Zulkoksi.
Key Losses: Tyelr Ehresman; Russell Otten; Kort Steele.
2018 GPAC All-Conference: Nolan Zikas (16th). 

Outlook
Three regulars from last season’s top five have departed, but the Concordia University men’s golf program is in good hands with senior leader Nolan Zikas headlining the 2018-19 squad. Zikas kicked cancer to the curb after being put through the ringer early in his collegiate career. Someone with his determination and toughness is exactly want you want as the face of a program.

With the help of Zikas’ steady play, the 2017-18 Bulldogs proved they could compete with anyone in the GPAC. They made that clear when they bested a field of 14 teams at the Midland Spring Invitational back on April 17. It marked the first tournament victory on the men’s side in head coach Brett Muller’s first seven seasons at the helm of the program.

“That was our first team win for the men last year, winning the Midland Invite,” Muller said. “That was a pretty exciting win going into a playoff to capture that win. We definitely had some good pieces there. We’re moving in the right direction. This team is completely different. Our top five last year was pretty well set.”

Tyler Ehresman, Russell Otten and Kort Steele have moved on, but Muller expects to field another competitive squad despite the departures. Junior Tylar Samek (career average of 78.79 over 33 rounds) provides another dependable veteran alongside Zikas. Then you have to factor in the group of transfers: Devin Koob (North Iowa Area CC), Joshua Schaefer (North Iowa Area CC) and Colton Zulkoski (McCook CC).

It's rare for Muller to field a lineup loaded with transfers, but it would have been hard to pass up the aforementioned names. All three qualified for National Junior College Athletic Association national championships.

“I was thinking about it this summer that it’s kind of shocking that only two of us (from the varsity lineup) are returning,” Zikas said. “I thought it would be tough, but after seeing practice I think we’ve got a good squad. We’re going to be able to compete. We have some transfers and some freshmen coming in that have great potential. They maybe have played some longer courses and obviously different courses. That’s really going to benefit us and help us compete for the GPAC.”

Perhaps this will be the year that Zikas makes a serious push for a top-five individual finish in the GPAC. He had himself in that territory after 36 holes of conference action last fall before sliding back a bit in the spring. However, he still managed to collect his third All-GPAC honor in a row. His four-under-par 68 on the team’s home turf at Highlands Golf Course equaled a program record for a single round.

The roster numbers 13 strong, including additional returners in Harrison Helmer, Jayden Neal and Grant Suchanek. They will have to step up their games to jump into the top five, where Zikas and Samek are already fixtures. Samek has the ability to improve upon his 79.44 scoring average from 2017-18.

Says Muller, “With some of the guys we have coming in and their scoring potential, I think it could be three or four tournaments before we really figure out what our top five are. We’ll be by far the deepest we’ve ever been so I’m very excited about that. Right away in our qualifying in practice, they (the newcomers) definitely raised the bar. We had some very good scores. Those practices should translate into being more competitive on the team side in the tournaments.”

Muller has overseen a program that seems to get a little bit better each year. The team’s 2017-18 scoring average of 306.88 set a new standard. Eight times the Bulldogs carded team scores of 300 or lower, including a 288 at the GPAC fall championships – another program record.

Zikas expects the trend of declining scores to continue. Says the La Vista, Neb., native, “(The goal is) going out and breaking records again. You have to set the goals high. Whatever happens, happens. All you can do is give it your all. You just go and try to achieve those goals. I think having the individual college career record is a big goal of mine.”

Concordia will embark upon a new season beginning with the Blue River Classic (Sept. 4-5) that it will co-host with Doane. Day one will take place at Wilderness Ridge in Lincoln before shifting to Highlands for day two.