When the Valparaiso University women’s golf team cracks out the clubs for the first time this spring on Friday afternoon in Port St. Lucie, Fla., a new era of Crusader golf will begin.
This week’s Ball State Sunshine Invitational will mark the debut of first-year head coach Jon Haas, who was hired in December to guide the Crusaders.
So far, the transition from his previous post at Crown Point High School, where he was the head coach for both the boys and girls programs, has been a smooth one for Haas.
“It’s been phenomenal,” Haas said. “The girls have really worked hard and embraced me and my coaching style. They’ve been awesome to work with.”
The Crusaders may have a new face in charge of the program, but there’s no shortage of familiarity on a team comprised of two newcomers and six returnees. It all starts with senior Angie Kim (Schaumburg, Ill. / Fremd), who had the team’s top average during the fall at 78.92. Junior Katie Willenbrink (Mishawaka, Ind. / Penn) was also a fall standout, narrowly behind Kim for the team lead at 79.00.
“Angie and Katie both had really good falls,” Haas said. “Both worked really hard over the winter. They came back to campus with their swings looking good after Christmas break. I think those two have been the highlights of the year so far.”
After the opening meet this weekend, the Crusaders continue the spring docket with the Bulldog Florida Invitational (March 8-9), the Fort Wayne Spring Classic (April 2-3) and the Crusader/Jaguar Challenge (April 9-10). The season culminates with the Horizon League Championships (April 23-25) in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla.
“The goal is to win the Horizon League championship,” Haas said. “I’ve spent a lot of time looking through stats from the fall and what other teams have done, and I think if we play well over that three-day stretch we can be very competitive.”
But first thing’s first for the Crusaders, and that’s this weekend’s spring lid-lifter in the Sunshine State. The Crusaders leave for Port St. Lucie on Thursday in advance of Friday’s opening day of competition.
“It’s going to be my first tournament as a college coach,” Haas said. “It’s going to be my first time out on the golf course with these girls. Our golf room is a great resource for us, but I’m looking forward to getting out on grass and seeing how the girls do there.”
The Crusaders feature a slew of names that locals may recognize, as junior Kiana Jongsma (Dyer, Ind. / Lake Central), sophomore Kylie Shoemake (Schererville, Ind. / Lake Central) and freshman Tiffany Curtis (Crown Point, Ind. / Crown Point) all play for the Crusaders after competing in Northwest Indiana during their prep tenure. In addition, Valpo welcomes first-year assistant coach Bri Davy, who graduated from Lake Central and played collegiately for the Crusaders.
Kayla Krueger (Spring Lake, Mich. / Spring Lake) joins Curtis to form this year’s freshman class, while Sydney Shrum (Cloverdale, Ind. / Cloverdale) joins Kim as the senior duo. Madison McCreary (Batesville, Ind. / Batesville) is back for her sophomore season after playing in 10 events and shooting 23 rounds as a rookie.
“The one thing all of our players need to work on is their ability to grind through rounds when things aren’t going the best,” Haas said. “Just like any golf team, we’re going to be as good as our fourth and fifth scorers. If our girls can maintain really good mental toughness and grind through each round, I think we can have an exceptional season.”