No. 17: Vanderbilt women, Iowa men
College golf is just a few short weeks away. To get you ready, Asher Wildman is breaking down the top 60 men's and women's teams from last year's Golfweek/Sagarin rankings. Today, it's Nos. 17 on the board with the Iowa men and Vanderbilt women.
2010-11 final ranking: 17
Coach: Mark Hankins (fifth year)
Top returnees: Chris Brant, Barrett Kelpin
Top newcomers: Freshman Brian Bullington of Frankfort, Ill., freshman Joseph Winslow of Overland Park, Kan., sophomore Steven Ihm (transfer from Indian Hills Community College
Projected starting 5: Chris Brant (Sr.), Barrett Kelpin (Sr.), Jed Dirksen (Sr.), Brad George (Sr.), No. 5 spot TBA
Key losses: Brad Hopfinger, Vince India
Key fall tournament: Golfweek Conference Challenge
2010-11 recap: Iowa had a breakout season in Mark Hankins’ fourth year leading the program. “We won five tournaments, which means we played pretty consistent,” Hankins said. “We won four in a row at one point, and stayed strong in the spring.” After victories at the Golfweek Conference Challenge, Fighting Irish Golf Classic, Rod Myers Invitational and Baylor Intercollegiate, the Hawkeyes put themselves on the map as a top-15 team.
In the spring, Iowa won again at the Hawkeye TaylorMade-Adidas Invitational, giving them an impressive fifth title on the year. After advancing out of NCAA regionals, the Hawkeyes tied for 10th at the NCAA finals, missing out on match play by only three shots. The team’s T-10 performance was the best NCAA Championship finish in the program’s history.
Player to watch: Chris Brant. Said Hankins: “He was second at Big Tens, finished fourth at regionals, then 20th at the NCAA finals. He has the potential to have a real great year after (the way) he closed out the year last year. He’s gotten better every year.”
2011-12 preview: With the loss of two of the team’s top three players, this could be a transition year for the Hawkeyes. Entering the fall, the team is filled with question marks, even though the roster is laden with seniors. “Of the 10 players on the roster, five will be seniors,” Hankins said. “It’s possible you may see all five one week, and that would be unique.”
Last season, Iowa had one of the more consistent lineups in the nation. The starting five never changed in the fall; in the spring, it changed only when Jed Dirksen, a transfer from Central Florida, joined the lineup. “Between (having) the same five or (a lot of) changes, I don’t know if I prefer either,” Hankins said. “I’ve had mixed results with each, but you learn to go with what works.”
Senior Chris Brant will assume the role as the Hawkeyes go-to player. He finished last season at No. 55 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. The next-highest returnee is Barrett Kelpin at No. 244. Dirksen saw action in only four events for the Hawkeyes, but played well at the end of the season.
Bottom line: The Hawkeyes have plenty of seniors, but are they talented enough to repeat their success from a year ago? On the outside, it appears Iowa may take a step backwards. But one thing Mark Hankins is known for is getting the most out of his players, so the Hawkeyes could be better than expected. This is still a postseason team, but don’t expect Iowa to compete for an Elite Eight spot at nationals again.
2010-11 final ranking: 17
Coach: Greg Allen (ffth year)
Top returnees: Marina Alex, Lauren Stratton
Top newcomers: Freshman Kendall Martindale of Jefferson City, Tenn., freshman Irina Gabasa of the Philippines
Projected starting 5: Marina Alex (Sr.), Lauren Stratton (Jr.), Anna Leigh Keith (Jr.), Kendall Martindale (Fr.), Irina Gabasa (Fr.)
Key losses: Megan Grehan
Key fall tournament: Fall Preview (Mason Rudolph)
2010-11 recap: After finishing in seventh place at the 2010 NCAA Championship in Wilmington, N.C., the Commodores tied for 10th at the 2011 event in Bryan, Texas, marking the first time a Vanderbilt team has posted back-to-back top-10 finishes at nationals.
The finish at the NCAA finals was in some ways a surprise. Vanderbilt had failed to post a single top 5 as a team or produce an individual medalist in its 10 events prior to nationals.
“During the regular season, it was kind of an average year for us,” coach Greg Allen said. “Our (classes) ended before regionals, and our team becomes different when they know there’s no school to worry about.”
Player to watch: Kendall Martindale. Said Allen of the freshman: “I think she can come in and be one of the best players in college golf this year. She can be an instant impact player. As long as she doesn’t have problems adjusting to the college life, then she can be a really good player this year.”
2011-12 preview: The pressure will be on Vandy to play well this season, as the Commodores are playing host to this year’s NCAA Championship on their home course – the Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin, Tenn. “This will be a great opportunity for us,” Allen said. “This is Marina’s senior year, and I feel this the best team I’ve had at Vanderbilt.”
For Vandy to taste success, it will need a bounce-back season from senior year Marina Alex. She ended last season at No. 40 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, but that was a drop from a No. 5 ranking the year before, when she was a Player of the Year candidate. “I think Marina put too much pressure on herself,” Allen said. “When she relaxed in the spring, she played a lot better and looked like the player from a year or two ago.”
Joining Alex and juniors Lauren Stratton and Anna Leigh Keith in the lineup could be a pair of instant-impact freshmen. Martindale, who won the Tennessee Amateur and the Tennessee Open this summer, is expected to play a key role in the Commodores’ success this year. Vandy’s other freshman, Irina Gabasa of the Phillipines, doesn’t turn 17 until October, but Allen said she is mature for her age. Though Gabasa doesn’t hit it far off the tee, Allen said her tee shots are always down the middle.
Bottom line: It all comes down to Marina Alex. If the senior is back to playing like she did as a sophomore, Vandy could make some noise in the postseason. However, if she struggles like she did last season, when she posted only two top 10s, the Commodores could be in trouble. The team does have two freshmen who should contribute, and the rest of its core is solid. If Alex returns to greatness, Vandy could contend for a national title on its home course.