Experience and depth from fall returns
“Inconsistency”…according to Webster’s dictionary means, “not staying the same throughout.” When looking at the North Dakota State University women’s golf schedule from last fall, one might think a trip to the “I” section in Webster’s is just what the swing doctor ordered. A win at the NDSU Invitational and a runner-up finish at the Jackrabbit Invitational in September was surrounded by a 12th-place finish (out of 18 teams) in Utah. A seventh-place finish in Washington doesn’t sound like much, but there were 21 teams there with strong golf programs and the Bison challenged for top honors until the very end. Then, to finish the season came a disappointing performance in Hawaii. When it looked like the Bison had arrived, another struggle waited for them at the next stop.
“Our fall definitely showed the success we are capable of having, but it also showed our inconsistencies,” NDSU Women’s Head Coach Matt Johnson admitted. “Our last tournament in Hawaii was a great trip, but a disappointing tournament. We also had a tournament in Utah where it was a bit of a struggle. All our other tournaments we played well in, and we even won our own tournament in September, but one of our goals heading into the spring is to eliminate those rounds where too many people are struggling.”
On paper, the Bison look great and should be ready to compete as they return all players from the fall campaign. The lone senior on the squad, Maddie Herzog, likes what she sees in practices thus far.
“Yes, we’re going to be great,” Herzog said. “I think it will be good. It will be competitive, and we have a lot of depth on our team. Practices, so far, have been competitive and fun. I think it will be good.”
The Bison do have a lot of depth. They played 14 competitive rounds in the fall and the five players who played all 14 are back. Of those five, junior Leah Skaar had the lowest scoring average at 75.2. Skaar, from Gold Canyon, Ariz., had three Top Ten finishes in the fall including a tie for medalist honors at the Jackrabbit Invitational in September. She was also named to the Summit League’s ‘Players to Watch’ list just this month.
Photo Courtesy | NDSU Athletics
“Leah is solid. She is fun to watch,” Herzog said.
“Leah’s been a very solid player and continues to improve,” Johnson added. “She competes hard, is very talented and is pretty consistent. She’s become one of the better players in our conference.”
Right behind Skaar in scoring average are Elise Hoven (76.02) and Catherine Monty (77.0). They were co-medalists at the NDSU Invitational. Rounding out the starting five are Jo Baranczyk and Madi Hicks. Those five players accounted for ten Top Ten finishes last fall. Finishing out the roster is Cora Larson, who played 11 rounds, and Ava Wallerich and Herzog, both of whom played in eight rounds.
The Summit League’s coaches picked the Herd to finish fourth, tied with South Dakota State. The defending Summit League Champions, the Denver Pioneers, were tapped to repeat as conference champions receiving eight of the nine possible first-place votes. Oral Roberts University received the other and was picked to finish second.
“Well, you always want to be picked as high as you can,” Johnson explained. “But those are based on the fall so really it is so close after Denver that we could have easily been picked second, been picked fifth, you know. I’m more concerned with what we are capable of and where we can position ourselves.”
For Herzog, her senior and final season is upon her, and she understands her role on the team.
“I just do what I can do to support them and let them know I’m always cheering for them,” Herzog said. “I’m always trying to be encouraging, good or bad round. I think it’s the same on or off the course.”
Meanwhile, Johnson says he has seen a change in his lone senior over her seasons at North Dakota State.
“She’s changed a ton,” Johnson shared about Herzog. “She appreciates everything she gets and doesn’t take things for granted. She’s been through some tough times and some great times. She has become more confident as a person and is in a good spot to move on from here. She has been exactly what I would like my seniors to be.”
Finally, while there is so much individuality in one’s game, there are still things a team can work on together to improve the whole. For the Bison, those things are club distances and pre-shot routines.
“What we have hit hard with all our golfers is learning their distances. How far do you hit the ball with each club? Then they can factor in things like wind, elevation and lie,” Johnson said. “We also talked about strategies and routines on the golf course. All these little ways to keep your score down. I think we sometimes drop down when we get a little out of sorts with our routine or our preparation. Every one of these girls are capable, they can all play as well as anybody.”
The women’s season begins on February 27th & 28th at the Grand Canyon Invitational in Phoenix, Ariz., on Grand Canyon University’s course. They will play four additional tournaments before the spring season wraps up with the Summit League Championships at Wilderness Ridge Golf Course in Lincoln, Neb., on April 23rd – 25th.