By Josh Neuhart
Grace College Sports Information
WINONA LAKE – The anticipation is high as Grace’s men’s and women’s golf teams are readying for their first tournaments of 2020-21.
The programs reached new heights last year, but the spring seasons were sadly wiped out due to COVID-19.
So 11 months after their last competitive tournament, Grace will hit the links again this month, eager to taste last year’s success again.
The Lady Lancers open up Saturday at the IWU Invitational, and the men’s team will start on Sept. 14 with the Bethel Invitational.
Grace’s women’s golf program is just six years old, but expectations could not be higher.
The reason? Two words. National champs.
The Lady Lancers claimed the 2019 NCCAA national championship under head coach Denny Duncan, earning the school its third national title.
Grace did graduate several key seniors, but the Lady Lancers bring back a strong core of returners.
Rachel Harvey is the lone fourth-year player. Harvey turned in a memorable week during the NCCAA tournament, providing three steady rounds to help Grace win the title.
Rebecca Hawes and Olivia Shaw enter their third seasons; Hawes, who transferred to Grace last year, has played with confidence and is poised to be a consistent contributor, according to Duncan.
The sophomore class impressed Duncan with their improvement during the pandemic break. Lucy Young was sensational as a freshman, earning NCCAA All-American recognition in the fall. Carolyn Pacocha also had a strong first season and was Grace’s No. 4 scorer during the NCCAA tournament.
Abigail Fishel, Abby Slabaugh, Brittney Klotz and Julia Hildebrand provide Grace with the deepest roster it has ever fielded.
Hannah Godfrey and Jalee Nunemaker are the two incoming freshmen; Duncan noted that both freshmen have impressed during preseason qualifying rounds, and the duo has a legitimate chance to break into the top five.
Grace’s men’s golf team fielded a young squad last year under head coach Denny Hepler, and the young Lancers delivered.
The Lancers placed fourth at the 2019 NCCAA National Championships with three underclassmen among the team’s top scorers.
Noah Wright, now entering his junior season, was an NCCAA All-American a year ago. Wright finished fifth on the individual leaderboard and seemed on the verge of a breakout spring season before COVID.
Sophomores Blake Lawson and Payton Kelly finished third and fourth respectively for Grace in the national tournament in 2019.
The Lancers have two seniors (Camden Gongwer, Isaiah Brown) this season, providing leadership and maturity for a still-young roster, and Chase Byron (Warsaw graduate) begins his second season on the squad.
Hepler was most excited for the team’s depth, which was aided by the Lancers’ freshman class. Tristen Dubbs (South Knox HS), Ty Ploss (Twin Lakes HS) and Parker Wilburn (Logansport HS) have potential to contribute immediately, according to Hepler.