2002: On solid ground

The University of Minnesota men’s golf team seems primed to defend its national championship, but the women’s program will have a new look this season – a season that five months ago the teams weren’t even sure they would have.

Both programs survived a tumultuous spring, but in very different fashions following an April 11 announcement by former university president Mark Yudof that the teams would be eliminated for financial reasons at the end of the 2001-02 season. Amid uncertainty, the Golden Gophers women placed a disappointing 11th at the Big Ten Championship after a promising fall season. The men’s team, however, reacted to the news with a late-season charge, winning the Big Ten Championship, then following it with their first national title.

An outpouring of financial support saved both teams and caused Yudof – who left in June to become chancellor of the University of Texas – to reverse his decision and keep the programs alive at least through 2003. Boosters are close to reaching fund-raising goals that Yudof had said would secure the teams through at least 2005.

But while the men’s team returns relatively intact – all five starters return – the episode has had a profound impact on the women, who will have a new coach and an overhauled roster this season. Several top players and recruits transferred or chose other schools because of doubts about the program’s future.

After three years as Minnesota head coach, Melissa Ringler, who led the Gophers to three team victories and an NCAA Central Regional appearance in 2001, left in June to take the coaching job at Nevada-Las Vegas.

“It was no secret that I wasn’t happy,” Ringler said. “I still have some parts of me that don’t understand why it happened how it did. It was really shocking.”

Sophomore Terra Petsinger, one of Minnesota’s few returnees, said she hated to see Ringler leave a program that had been on the rise.

“That was hard because she worked so hard to bring in good recruits,” Petsinger said. “But I don’t have any bad feelings toward her. She did what she had to do.”

The Gophers also lost a pair of young standouts – sophomore Karen Quintelier, who will play for Kansas State, and Tai Kinney, who had an outstanding freshman season before transferring to San Jose State. Two top recruits who had signed letters of intent with Minnesota – Amy Schmucker and Courtney Mahon – also changed course. Schmucker went to Michigan, Mahon to Arkansas.

On Aug. 8, with the program’s future more secure, the Gophers hired Katie Weiss, the coach at East Tennessee State the past two seasons.

“I’m very happy to be returning to my home state,” said Weiss, a Fergus Falls, Minn., native. “I understand all the challenges that lie ahead, but I feel the University of Minnesota has now made a commitment to having competitive golf programs. Minnesota is a great state for golf.”

Karyn Stordahl and Kirstin Whalen, who had considered transferring, decided to stay at Minnesota for their senior seasons, and will anchor the Gophers’ lineup along with Petsinger. Freshman Sarah Butler, Minnesota’s 1A individual state champion (whom Ringler signed one week before she took the UNLV job) also could play a big role.

Non-scholarship players returning are sophomores Anna Haag, Alexa Hanson and Carrie Langer.

Petsinger thinks enough pieces are in place for the women to be successful in 2002-03.

“Last year, I was really disappointed,” said Petsinger. “People said it was all the things going on, but I just don’t think we played the way we should have. I think we are going to be pretty solid (this season). We have a good, solid starting five.”

That definitely is the case for the men, who return all of the key ingredients from their national title. Minnesota’s top five players – seniors Matt Anderson and Wilhelm Schauman and juniors Justin Smith, Simon Nash and David Morgan – all return. Smith tied for fourth individually at the NCAAs.

Brad James, who guided the Gophers to the national championship with the title of interim coach, was named head coach June 17.

James said he knows last season was special, but his goal is to prove to others that the Gophers can be a perennial championship contender.

“It wasn’t a fluke,” he said.

James has brought in three freshmen who will give the team more depth – reigning Scottish Junior champion John Hempstock, plus Minnesota natives Peter Anderson and Spencer Hudson – to offset the transfers of Garrett Clegg (Utah) and Joe Afrunti (Illinois).

The Gophers also have a new home course – the Tournament Players Club of the Twin Cities, where they will play host to a fall tournament in 2003.

A lot can change in five months.



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