Choosing Gophers over foes paying off for Stordahl

by Brett Angel

It was barely more than a year ago when Karyn Stordahl first faced what she knew would be a life-changing decision.

After hearing former University President Mark Yudof announce last April the women’s golf team was tagged for elimination following the 2002 season, Stordahl had to make one of two choices.

She could leave her home state of Minnesota for the greener fairways, warmer weather and program security offered by other collegiate golf teams.

Or, she could commit to play her final season for a Minnesota program that might not even exist by the time her senior year rolled around.

“I had no idea what to do for the longest time,” Stordahl said. “I was so torn. Either way it was going to be a big decision that impacted my life.”

Stordahl considered transferring to several other Big Ten schools before eventually deciding to return for her fourth season with the Gophers.

Meanwhile, an outpouring of support from community members and Minnesota alumni raised the $2.7 million necessary to guarantee the women’s golf program (along with men’s golf and men’s gymnastics) would be around until 2005.

Now, Stordahl is the captain and undisputed leader of a revamped Gophers team poised for improvement.

“It was so close,” Stordahl said of her decision to stay. “But I definitely feel like I made the right choice.”

She and fellow senior co-captain Kirstin Whalen are the only two upperclassmen returning from a 2002 team that lost four players to transfers and four more to graduation – not to mention their former head coach, Melissa Arthur Ringler, who left Minnesota for UNLV last summer.

But none of that discourages Stordahl, who is thankful for every opportunity she’s got after all that has happened in the past 12 months.

“It’s been the best year I could ever imagine,” Stordahl said. “It’s awesome how great things have worked out.”

Stordahl has certainly done her part to ensure the Gophers’ rebuilding process is a fast one.

She’s kept her scoring average below 80 in each of her first three seasons with the Gophers, steadily improving from a 79.67 average as a freshman, to a 76.92 average in four tournaments last fall.

Stordahl has played in all 42 tournaments in which her team has competed since arriving at Minnesota in 1999.

Her consistency on the golf course has helped a team that finished last at the 2002 Big Ten championships place toward the middle of the pack in four tournaments this spring.

She also carded seven consecutive rounds in the 70s this spring before running into rough weather at the Indiana Invitational two weeks ago and finishing with scores of 81 and 82, respectively. Still, she was able to sandwich an even-par round in between at the par-74 Indiana University Golf Course.

“It’s nice to have that comfort, knowing there’s someone you can rely upon,” first-year coach Katie Weiss said. “She’s got a solid swing and is mentally very positive.”

Stordahl received an award Monday as one of the top five scholar athletes at the University for her performance on the golf course and in the classroom. She currently has a cumulative grade point average of 3.94.

“As seniors, people look to us for more than just leadership,” said Whalen, who was a rival of Stordahl’s in high school before teaming up with her at Minnesota.

“They look to us as role models, to set examples and guide everyone in the right direction,” she said.

Perseverance is the quality Weiss thinks of first when asked to describe her top performer, but the list of Stordahl’s attributes doesn’t end there.

“She’s a great teammate and a great competitor,” Weiss said. “She’s an extremely well-rounded person and someone that’s going to be very hard to replace.”

Brett Angel covers golf and welcomes comments at [email protected]