WINONA LAKE – Grace’s men’s and women’s golf teams are just days away from starting the 2018-19 season.
Both teams enter the season with excitement and are eager to better last year’s performance.
Grace’s men’s golf team is led by head coach Denny Hepler. Now in his sixth year at the helm, Hepler was excited about starting a new fall season.
The Lancers feature a balanced squad, spearheaded by seniors Chad Spencer and Cameron Bates. Spencer and Bates provide leadership and experience, and both players have big-tournament experience throughout their careers.
Hepler, similar to Duncan, looked forward to seeing the team’s depth in 2018-19. He commented that this could be “deepest team I’ve had so far.”
A trio of sophomores and three more freshmen give Hepler a competitive squad at every position.
Sophomores Isaiah Brown and Tim Rata were able to feature in Grace’s top five throughout their freshman campaigns. Fellow sophomore Camden Gongwer came on strong to end his first season, finishing second on the team in the Crossroads League Championships.
Hepler’s three-player freshman class has great potential as well. Jacob Abrahamson from Prairie High School (Wash.), Caleb Leak from Benton Central (Ind.) and Noah Wright from Monticello (Ill.) will have a chance to play immediately in Grace’s lineup.
“Our three freshmen all can be very special when they play their game. They are very intelligent and know how to break par,” Hepler said. “They could make an immediate impact on this program in more ways than one.”
Additionally, the Lancers feature one of the smartest teams on campus. Hepler expressed he would not be surprised to see Grace post the highest GPA on campus and even in the Crossroads League.
Hepler hopes that the team’s book smarts will translate to intelligence on the course as well.
“This team could reach its potential if they work hard first and foremost,” he said. “They need to really excel in the short game and maintain their strategy of playing the golf course with intelligence.”
The Lancers’ first tournament will be hosted by Northwestern Ohio on Aug. 31.
Grace’s women’s golf team, under head coach Denny Duncan, is in its fourth year as a program. As a result, the Lady Lancers are experiencing a new phenomenon — having a senior class.
Grace’s senior class of Lauren Keiser, Libby Tully, April Bishop and Amanda Gifford have the distinction of being the first four-year class in program history. The quartet has seen a rapid transformation of the program, culminating with a ground-breaking season in 2017-18.
The Lady Lancers finished just four strokes out of second place at the Crossroads League Championship and had two players finish in the top-five of the individual leaderboard.
Everyone is back from last year’s squad. Keiser and juniors Anna Marshall and Sydney Abbott were threats in nearly every tournament they played in last year, and Tully and Kristin Holt were consistent contributors in the team’s top five.
Duncan believes the team’s depth will be better than ever in 2018. “This year I expect Libby Tully, Kristin Holt, Rachel Harvey and Kara Godsey to make the bottom of our order much stronger than it’s ever been. We will need to improve on our consistency and start to put together some of our excellent rounds.”
The Lady Lancers have their sights set on NCCAA Nationals this year. Three individuals have qualified for Grace in the past (Keiser, Marshall, Abbott), but Duncan wants the whole team to make the trip this year.
Duncan was nostalgic in thinking about this team’s growth over the past few years.
“Our senior class were leaders out of necessity in their first years. Now they have the experience to support that leadership. I feel like I’ve watched them grow up before my eyes, and I’m so proud of them,” Duncan said.
The Lady Lancers start their season on Thursday with the Trine Invitational.