The Grace College golf teams are set to kick off their seasons. Below are two stories from grace.edu about the women’s team, coached by Denny Duncan, and the men’s team, coached by Denny Hepler.
Women’s Golf has High Hopes for 2017-18
They are young, they are experienced, and they are ready to conquer the 2017-18 season. The Grace College women’s golf team, coached by Denny Duncan, is thrilled to be swinging the clubs once again.
In just the third year of the program’s existence, Grace already boasts an impressive group of returners. Lauren Keiser, Anna Marshall, Sydney Abbott and Libby Tully were mainstays in Grace’s lineup last year, a season which shattered expectations for the young team.
“This team has no seniors and could start four underclassmen at times, but I really don’t consider us to be a young team,” Duncan said. “Our players have so much varsity experience, and we have high expectations for this season. We are still growing, but we are going to get better in the months ahead. The future looks bright for this team.”
The Lady Lancers made tremendous strides last year as the women won four events, including the nine-team Spring Arbor Invitational. They also finished second in the NCCAA Midwest Regionals and are looking to improve even more this upcoming year. Duncan is looking for his younger players to step into the four and five positions to bolster the squad’s depth.
During the offseason, the team added three golfers to squad. Kristin Holt, daughter of Notre Dame women’s golf coach Susan Holt, comes from Penn. Three-time conference selection Rachel Harvey graduated from Southern Wells and all-league player Kara Godsey attended Worthington Christian (Ohio). “The freshmen have had excellent high school careers and enjoyed great success this summer. We need and expect immediate contributions from this group,” Duncan said.
April Bishop, Sarah Ganger and Amanda Gifford return this year and bring experience and leadership.
Duncan has many goals he wants the team to accomplish in the upcoming season. “Our first goal [is to] grow in our faith and honor Jesus Christ in everything we do.” The third-year head coach also wants to qualify for the NCCAA National Championships, finish in the top three in the Crossroads League and have a team GPA of 3.3 or higher.
The Lady Lancers open up the season with their only home match of the year on Aug. 22, at Stonehenge Golf Club. First tee time is set at 3 p.m.
Men’s Golf Looks to Build Off Last Year’s Momentum
Grace’s men’s golf team enjoyed a successful season last year under head coach Denny Hepler.
In 2017-18, Hepler’s Lancers hope to replicate that success with a young but experienced roster.
The Lancers reached the NCCAA National Championships last season for the first time in 17 years. Grace went on to finish fourth in the national tournament.
To return to nationals, Grace will need to replace the void left by graduated seniors Jonathan Schram, Tyler Ham and Zachary Allyn. Hepler acknowledged the young team may experience a learning curve at the start of the season.
“We will be very young this year with no seniors,” Helper said. “We’re also starting the year with a couple injuries, so we’re going to be a little thin starting out. But we trust our returners and look forward to seeing our new guys step up.”
Despite their youth, Grace still has the goal of returning to the NCCAA tournament. “We will be hosting the NCCAA regional qualifier, and of course our goal is to get to the national championship like we did last year,” Hepler said.
Hepler will rely on returning juniors Chad Spencer and Cameron Bates to be the team captains and lead the rest of the squad. Grace also expects a large contribution from sophomore Tristan Nienhuis.
Nienhuis made an impact immediately as a freshman, routinely finding himself near the top of Grace’s leaderboard. Hepler praised Nienhuis’s attitude on and off the course. “He has a tremendous work ethic and leads the team in that category.”
Nienhuis earned All-American honors as a freshman at the NCCAA National Championships in 2016. Bates also had one of his best career performances at last year’s NCCAA Nationals, as he finished one stroke shy of earning All-American recognition.
Spencer’s most notable outing last season came at the IU-South Bend Invitational where he finished fifth overall.
The Lancers have three incoming freshmen to help replace last year’s seniors. Tim Rata is a local standout from Warsaw, helping lead the Tigers to a sectional championship in 2017 on his way to earning All-Conference recognition. Isaiah Brown led Fairfield to sectional championships in 2016 and 2017. Camden Gongwer is an All-County golfer who aided Avon to a county title his senior year.
Jacob Kennedy and Max Leary round out the returnees for Grace. Both will be entering their sophomore year with tournament experience. Leary competed in the Crossroads League Championships in 2017.
Grace will open up the season at the Lancer Invitational on Aug. 22. The tournament tees off at 3 p.m. at Stonehenge Golf Club. — from grace.edu