The Valparaiso University women’s golf team will have an immediate chance to meet Missouri Valley Conference competition as it embarks on the 2017-18 season by visiting a Valley foe on Sunday.
The Crusaders had to alter their initial season-opening plans as Hurricane Irma forced the cancellation of the Golfweek Program Challenge in Myrtle Beach, S.C. The team will instead begin the season by participating in the Redbird Invitational in Normal, Ill. The event, which features two rounds on Sunday and a third round on Monday, is hosted by Illinois State and also features Valley foes Bradley, Loyola and Southern Illinois.
That tournament will mark the first of four fall events, all of which will pit the Crusaders against Valley foes. Valpo will also compete in the Loyola Fall Invitational (Flossmoor, Ill.), the Missouri Valley Conference Preview (Newton, Kan.) and the Braun Intercollegiate (Evansville, Ind.). The spring slate includes four more tournaments, culminating with the MVC Championship April 15-17 in Newton, Kan.
“It was really important for us to set up the schedule the way we did,” head coach Jon Haas said. “It gives us a chance right out of the gate to see where we stack up against the competition. I think we can immediately be successful in The Valley this year. I’m really excited about the way our players have come together and embraced playing in the Valley. A lot of kids would be a little fearful of making a transition like we have, but our girls have embraced it.”
Haas is back for his second season after guiding the Crusaders to their best scoring average in program history in his first year at the helm. The Crusaders compiled a 322.2 team scoring average, more than a stroke better than the previous team record set in 2012-2013.
“We talk about nothing more than bogey, and that’s all about limiting the damage if you get in a bad position on the golf course,” Haas said. “Last year, we’d get in areas that weren’t good scoring positions and we tried to do too much. That’s something a lot of golfers struggle with, and we’ve made great strides in that area. That showed in the spring, as we started to post good scores toward the end of the season.”
Senior Katie Willenbrink is back after accumulating the third-best single-season scoring average in program history at 79.90 a year ago, while sophomore Tiffany Curtis was Valpo’s top finisher at the league tournament last season. Kiana Jongsma will join Willenbrink to form this year’s senior class, while the Crusaders also feature pairs of juniors (Madison McCreary and Kylie Shoemake), sophomores (Curtis and Kayla Krueger) and freshmen (Shelby Schier and Grace McMinn).
“We have a lot of quality returning players on our roster this season,” Haas said. “There’s a lot to be excited and optimistic about. The girls are very excited about being members of the Valley. I believe we’re going to go out and surprise some people this year.”