Elimination talk in the past, women’s golf team eyeing quick comeback

For the first time this year, the Gophers practiced at home — the Les Bolstad Golf Course in St. Paul.

Brett Angel

Katie Weiss has been the head coach of Minnesota’s women’s golf team for nearly eight months, but it’s not as if she’s had much time to relax since accepting the job.

Weiss inherited a program marked for elimination by former University President Mark Yudof, only to see the team (along with men’s golf and men’s gymnastics) later saved by an outpouring of community support that raised more than $2.7 million.

By then, however, the majority of Minnesota’s top players – and former coach Melissa Arthur Ringler – had transferred to other schools out of fear they wouldn’t have a team to play for, and the Gophers’ new head coach was left to rebuild a team basically from scratch.

Weiss has since kept herself busy with recruiting efforts, additional fundraising events and, oh yeah, coaching a Big Ten golf team.

But all that just seemed to make Tuesday afternoon a little more enjoyable.

For the first time this year, the women’s golf team played a practice round at its home course – the Les Bolstad University of Minnesota Golf Course in St. Paul – as Weiss walked along beside.

Actually playing golf is a nice switch for a Minnesota team that has gotten used to banging balls into the synthetic wall of a dome or stinging its hands by hitting thin 3-irons at the driving range in 40-degree weather.

“It just feels great (to get outside),” said senior Karyn Stordahl, one of Minnesota’s few players returning from last year’s team. “We love it.”

Despite practicing primarily indoors, Minnesota has already played in three events this spring, most recently at the Dr. Donnis Thompson Spring Invite in Oahu, Hawaii, two weeks ago. The Gophers finished seventh out of 17 teams in what was probably their best showing of the season.

Minnesota also finished seventh in the Peggy Kirk Bell Invitational and 14th at the Central District Classic in Florida earlier this spring.

“We definitely haven’t played to our potential, but we’ve been playing solidly,” Stordahl said. “We don’t like to use the excuse that it’s the spring and we’re still getting back into it, but it is a factor.”

The Gophers bring back senior Kirstin Whalen along with Stordahl, but will count heavily on the performances of youngsters Sarah Butler and Terra Petsinger if they hope to improve on 2002’s last-place finish at the Big Ten championships. Butler is a freshman and Petsinger a sophomore who made the team last year as a walk-on.

Weiss knows it’s a lot to ask of young players being thrust into big-time competition earlier than she’d like, but after losing so many athletes from last year’s squad, she doesn’t have much of a choice.

One thing that has been a pleasant surprise for Weiss is the team chemistry the Gophers have developed despite playing together for such a short time.

“I’ve been a part of so many different teams and this is by far the strongest, most committed group,” Weiss said. “They’re very supportive of one another through the good and bad, and that comes from a lot of the stuff they’ve been through.”

“We love to spend time together outside of golf,” Stordahl said. “We all enjoy working together, practicing hard and putting 100 percent into this team. It’s been very beneficial to us in making the transition.”

The Gophers, currently ranked 88th in the latest Golfweek/Sagarin rankings and 10th in the Big Ten, will get their first glimpse of where they stand in the conference this weekend when they compete in the Indiana Invitational in Bloomington.

Nobody from Minnesota is talking about conference championships, but the Gophers know they could still turn a lot of heads and surprise some teams in the coming weeks.

“We set high goals for ourselves,” Stordahl said. “We’re the underdogs; nobody’s expecting much from us. But we know that we can do really well.”

Added Weiss: “I’m not a very patient person. Like any coach, I’d like to see a turnaround this moment and I know what we’re capable of. We expect to play well.”

Brett Angel covers golf and welcomes

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