Gophers kick off new season at Minnesota Invitational

Minnesota returns many key golfers from last season’s successful team.

Betsy Helfand

The Gophers wrapped up last season as one of the most successful teams in program history.

They’ll try to build off that on Monday as they begin their 2014-15 campaign with many of last year’s key golfers and several fresh faces.

“I think we definitely have good momentum. I think we know what it takes to get to where we want to be, so we know how much time we have to put in and we know what worked from last year and what didn’t,” senior Anna Laorr said.

The Gophers finished 11th at their NCAA regional last season and return many of the key members of that team, including Laorr and Carmen Laguna, two of the team’s top golfers.

Minnesota graduated Banchalee Theinthong, a strong contributor, but gained a highly touted freshman class that includes Celia Kuenster, a two-time Minnesota Class 3A state champion.

Kuenster has worked herself into the lineup for the Minnesota Invitational. She said she has some nerves heading into her first collegiate tournament, but she’s mostly excited.

Head coach Michele Redman hasn’t placed any expectations on the talented freshman.

“I want her to get better and grow as a player here, and I know she’s going to do that,” Redman said. “I just want her to grow as a player and get better every week.”

Kuenster said the coaches haven’t placed any pressure on the freshman class — which also includes Heather Ciskowski and Sabrine Garrison — but there is an internal pressure to succeed.

“I want to play well and want to help the team, and I want the team to keep getting better,” Kuenster said.

Kuenster will have a chance to do that on Monday. Kuenster, Laguna, Laorr, senior Sarinee Thitiratanakorn and sophomore Sophie Kitchen make up Minnesota’s lineup for the first tournament.

Redman said the team was able to play three qualifying rounds, which helped her get a sense of where the team is.

“It’s going to be interesting to see who’s in the lineup each week, because it’s probably going to change a bit until I figure out what five play well together,” she said.

At this point, Redman said the most important thing for Minnesota is to keep improving, as it has done the past three seasons.

“When [we] do that, then everything else just takes care of itself,” she said.

Laorr said a long-term goal for the team is making it to nationals. But before that, there’s a lot of work for the team to do.

“I think we definitely proved ourselves a little bit [last year],” she said. “I think now we’re more on people’s radar.”