Head Coach: Brett Muller (9th year)
2018-19 GPAC Finish: 9th (309-300-326-320–1,255)
Key Returners: Harrison Helmer (Jr.); Jayden Neal (Jr.); Tylar Samek (Sr.); Jack Williams (So.).
Key Newcomers: Tyler Bartels; Drew D’Ercole; Jayveenrhaj Gunaseelan.
Key Loss: Nolan Zikas
2019 GPAC All-Conference: Nolan Zikas (18th).
A large void has been created by the graduation of Nolan Zikas, who overcame cancer to become perhaps the best ever for the Concordia University men’s golf program. As head coach Brett Muller has stated, you just can’t replace someone who makes the type of inspirational impact that Zikas made over four years as a Bulldog. He was quite literally the face of the program having appeared on The Golf Channel to tell his story.
On the plus side, there’s plenty of room for improvement from a team perspective after Concordia placed ninth in the GPAC last season. Led by senior Tylar Samek, the Bulldogs are trying to catch up to a conference that has elevated itself in a big way in recent years.
“There are a lot more players ready to compete at the college level,” Muller said. “Our coaches in the conference are doing a better job of going out and finding those players. Our conference gets deeper every year. Team scores that would have been top three or top four in the conference five or six years ago are more middle of the road now. We need to continue to elevate the program every year.”
The Bulldogs took a step back last season after placing fifth in the GPAC in 2017-18. A constant in the lineup over the previous three seasons, Samek would appear to be a likely candidate to take over the No. 1 spot from Zikas. Samek joined Zikas as the only two Concordia golfers last season to compete in all 17 of the team’s rounds. Samek’s season average stood at 78.35 with a low round of an even par 70.
There’s no doubt about Samek’s ability to drive the ball. This could be the season that everything comes together and results in an all-conference award for the native of David City, Neb.
Said Samek, “I’ve always wanted to be a leader on our team, even if I wasn’t playing the one spot the last few years I’ve always tried to compete for it. I’m definitely ready for that and ready to lead the team.”
In order for the Bulldogs to climb back up the ladder in the GPAC, they will need more than just Samek. Muller is hoping he’s found more competitors who can consistently shoot in the mid-70s. Juniors Harrison Helmer (86.73) and Jayden Neal (82.25) and sophomore Jack Williams (81.67) will have to fight to keep themselves inside the top five. A native of Hastings, Minn., Williams provided a boost last season when he joined the team starting with the second semester.
Three freshmen hope to put themselves in the mix: Drew D’Ercole, Jayveenrhaj Gunaseelan and Tyler Bartels. Bartels and D’Ercole are both native Nebraskans while Gunaseelan hails from Batu Caves, Malaysia. Even early in the school year, Muller has seen enough to know that the new members of the squad will be essential components in the team’s success.
Says Muller, “We have three freshmen right now that are definitely competing. We have two right now that are inside our top five. Another one is very close. I’m excited to see the added depth that those guys will bring to the lineup.”
One of the highlights of the season will come in 2020 when Muller will take his team to Prescott, Ariz., over spring break. The spring break trips have become an annual excursion with the men’s and women’s teams alternating each year. Such rewards have come in handy in recruiting for Muller.
By that point, the Bulldogs hope they have proven they are a better team than the 2018-19 edition.
“You see it every year from the Morningsides and the Northwesterns. They have kids that are willing to come and really put in that hard work,” Samek said. “I think if we do that we have a chance to be a top three to top five team in the GPAC. I really think we have a lot of potential. We have a lot of young guys that are going to be key guys who can help us generate some more fire in our team’s competitiveness.”
Added Muller, “We definitely have some very capable players. We have a much younger team this year so we need to come in and be consistent. I look for a much better finish than we had last year.”
Concordia will begin its season next Tuesday and Wednesday (Sept. 3-4) with the Blue River Classic that it co-hosts with Doane.