After making its Missouri Valley Conference debut a year ago, the Valparaiso University men’s golf team is poised for Year 2 as MVC members.
Valpo brings back a talented group of seven letter winners from 2017-2018 to join forces with a trio of quality freshmen. The anticipation for the season is peaking as the team gets set to begin the year with a trip to New York for the Turning Stone Tiger Intercollegiate this weekend.
“There is always a lot of energy and excitement with the team returning to school, starting classes and commencing our team practices,” head coach Dave Gring said. “The guys have worked diligently in their practice this summer along with playing in a lot of tournaments. This is one of the best summers that the team has had in preparing for our fall season, and we are excited to start competing.”
Sophomores Drew Alexander (McCordsville, Ind. / Hamilton Southeastern) and Brett Seward (Aurora, Ill. / Aurora Christian) are back after tying for the team lead in scoring average in their first collegiate season. Valpo is set to feature a youthful group that includes just one senior – Mitchell Wittmann (Kaukauna, Wis. / Kaukauna).
Wittmann finished his junior campaign on a high note, carding a season-low 70 in the second round of the MVC Championship on April 23. That was just one stroke away from his career-best of 69. He has thrived both athletically and academically during his time on campus, earning MVC Scholar-Athlete Honorable Mention in 2018 after receiving Horizon League All-Academic Team honors in 2017.
“Our team is going to be young again this year,” Gring said. “Mitchell is our only senior and captain of this year's team. He brings three years of terrific experience. We have three returning juniors who have played in more of our tournaments than any other group of third-year players. From there, we have three sophomores and three freshmen who complete our roster. Two of our three returning sophomores led our scoring last year and our three incoming freshman share a tremendous amount of success and experience from their high school and junior careers. Even though the team is young, there is still a lot of tournament experience.”
The three-member junior class is comprised of Jeremy Wu (Medford, Ore. / St. Mary’s), Matthew McCarthy (O’Fallon, Ill. / Althoff Catholic) and Ross Lazar (Okemos, Mich. / Okemos), while the aforementioned sophomores are joined by Jack Juskow (Greenville, S.C. / Hamilton Southeastern). The program has added three freshmen to the fold – Lance Picton (Oro Valley, Ariz. / Canyon del Oro), Charlie Toman (Chardon, Ohio / Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin) and Garrett Willis (Fort Wayne, Ind. / Homestead). Valpo will feature a young lineup comprised of two sophomores, two freshmen and one senior for the first tournament of the season: Seward, Toman, Wittmann, Willis and Alexander.
The freshmen aren’t the only newcomers for Valpo as the program has added a pair of experienced assistant coaches to its staff this year – Ron Gring and Tom Brankin. Ron Gring has been named to Golf Magazine’s list of the Top 100 Teachers every year since 2003, while Brankin is a veteran of the Northwest Indiana sports scene and is a former Valpo golfer who graduated in 1989. They’ll work under the direction of eighth-year head coach Dave Gring, who has won two league Coach of the Year awards and has guided his team to a conference championship and the national academic championship during his tenure.
A challenging and exciting slate begins this weekend in New York as Valpo competes in an 18-team field that features Missouri, Bethune-Cookman, Binghamton, Boston College, Cleveland State, Delaware, Detroit Mercy, Mount St. Mary’s, Niagara, Northern Kentucky, North Dakota State, Ottawa, Sacred Heart, Stetson, Villanova, Wright State and Youngstown State.
Valpo will hold its home tournament at Sand Creek Country Club in Chesterton on Sept. 17-18. Loyola, Bradley, UNI, Wright State, Detroit Mercy, Green Bay, Purdue Fort Wayne, Creighton, North Dakota, Chicago State and Western Illinois are slated to compete in the Crusader Collegiate. Valpo will have all 10 golfers competing with two teams participating – a Brown Team and a Gold Team.
“We will play in 12 tournaments this year, including the Missouri Valley Conference Championship in the Lake of the Ozarks, Mo. in April,” Gring said. “Those 12 tournaments will take us to 10 different states and we will play in four brand new events this year. We will certainly enjoy competing against a wide variety of quality Division I teams from all over the country and including our own conference. It's one of the strongest schedules that we have ever played and the guys are ready for the challenge.”