Pair of Finnish freshmen makes immediate impact for Minnesota

To the winners go the spoils.

And Minnesota’s men’s and women’s golf teams have already won thanks to their talented Finnish freshmen; Antti Ahokas and Suvi Mantyniemi.

“When we bring in international players, we look for them to start right away and be impact players right away,” men’s coach Brad James said. “I saw (Antti) play three years ago in Reykjavik, Iceland, and recruited him for three years. It was a long battle trying to get him here.”

It was worth the struggle. In his second collegiate round of golf, the left-handed Ahokas tied a course record with a 6-under par 66 Saturday in the Gopher Invitational.

If that wasn’t enough, with Minnesota and Washington tied, Ahokas – playing in Sunday’s final group – saved par on the 18th hole to clinch the victory for the Gophers.

“Antti is one of my leaders,” James said. “He is going to have to help carry the team.”

Ahokas stepped up to the challenge Sunday. Before he teed off on the 18th hole, he asked James to tell him what he needed to do to the win the tournament. Then he simply said, “I’ll do it.”

It was no easier for women’s golf coach Katie Hanneman to recruit Mantyniemi, the Under-18 Finnish Girls Champion, who came over with her Finnish team almost two years ago, but didn’t sign with the Gophers until January.

“We visited with her when she came here and offered her a scholarship,” Hanneman said. “Then it was just a matter of transferring test scores and other little things to get her here, but there was a little more work involved with that.”

As for expecting Mantyniemi to step up and lead the team, Hanneman said she has left it up to the freshman to decide her role on the team.

“I think it’s going to be in her court,” Hanneman said. “But I think her performance on the golf course will determine her leadership role.”

Mantyniemi wasted no time in proving her ability. In her first college tournament, the Wisconsin Invitational, Mantyniemi was the highest Minnesota finisher, placing 19th. She followed that up by taking second overall behind teammate Sarah Butler in this past weekend’s Minnesota Invitational, helping Minnesota erase a four-stroke deficit and win the tournament.

“I think the best thing is that she is a 20-year-old freshman, and with that comes a lot of maturity and tournament experience,” Hanneman said. “She’s stepped in and pretty much played that number one spot and has been an impact player right away.”

The two Finnish players have proven that transitioning to golf in the United States isn’t going to be much of a problem.

However, both admit transitioning to a new culture is much more difficult, and traditionally, that is hardest for international players to deal with.

“I’ve been missing my family, little things from Finland,” Mantyniemi said. “Daily things that I didn’t even notice until I came here.”

Lucky for these two, both the men’s and women’s teams are stocked with international players who have gone through the process themselves and have helped the two Finns with the transition.

“I don’t think it’s been one player or coach in particular,” Ahokas said. “It’s been a team effort.”

Mantyniemi specifically named junior Sophie Stubbs, from Telford, England, as one person who has helped her with the transition.

When asked if she was helping Mantyniemi, Stubbs said: “Yeah, I suppose. We have a lot of things in common and we know how the other feels. So I’ve been helping her a bit and she (has) been helping me as well.”