Both Gophers squads escape winter in Puerto Rico

by Brian Deutsch

The Minnesota men’s and women’s golf teams emerge from hibernation this weekend to start up spring play.

And while most University students are likely trudging through snow this weekend, the two Gophers teams will be competing in Puerto Rico, where the temperature is projected to be 85 degrees.

The men’s team will play in the Puerto Rico Classic at the Westin Rio Mar Country Club in Rio Mar.

The tournament, hosted by Purdue, begins Sunday with the final round scheduled for Tuesday.

Coach Brad James is bringing six of his top performers from this fall to play in the team’s first event of the spring season.

“This is a fun time of the year for the team,” James said. “We can get a strong start and work on the technical aspects of the game.”

Seniors Bronson La’Cassie and Niall Turner, juniors Clayton Rask and Andy Paulson, sophomore Victor Almstrom, and freshman Ben Pisani will try to improve on Minnesota’s performance at the tournament last year, where the team finished 17th.

The team’s trip to that tournament was snarled after being trapped in airports due to snowstorms. The Gophers missed their practice round and were forced to jump right into the action.

Unfortunately, the result of that chaos was the team’s worst finish of the season.

But last year’s performance doesn’t perturb La’Cassie, the 12th-ranked amateur in the world.

“We struggled like we normally do in the beginning of the spring,” he said. “(This year) expectations aren’t really that high.”

Wessinger takes the helm

The Minnesota women’s golf team will also head to the Caribbean this weekend to play in the Lady Puerto Rico Classic.

The women’s event starts Friday and continues through Sunday’s final round.

Like the men’s tournament, the Lady Puerto Rico Classic will be played at the Westin Rio Mar Country Club.

Interim head coach Kristine Wessinger will guide the Gophers in her first official tournament since former coach Katie Hanneman’s resignation in January.

“Katie and I have very similar coaching styles, so very little will change,” Wessinger said. “We’re just moving forward and staying positive.”

Wessinger coached under Hanneman as an assistant and led the team during Hanneman’s maternity leave last fall, which included a first-place finish at the DeBary Intercollegiate – the Gophers’ final event of the fall season.

Minnesota will try to continue its winning ways in Minnesota’s first tournament of the spring season.

Juniors Emily Brand and Kelli Berns, sophomores Anne Martin and Young Na Lee and freshmen Christine Herzog and Leslie Grabeman will participate in the tournament for the Gophers, who finished in last place at the event last year.

“The team is getting better, and we’re having a lot of fun,” Berns said. “We definitely want to make a statement this weekend.”