MIAC women's golf preview courtesy of Matt Higgins and the MIAC office
COON RAPIDS, Minn. – In recent years, the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) has seen a surge in women's golfing talent and – in response – records have fallen left and right. The past two championships have seen the top two 54-hole scores and the top-three 18-hole scores in tournament history, so it's safe to say expectations are high for the scores to continue to go lower as the 2016 MIAC Championships get set to tee off.
The University of St. Thomas set an 18-hole conference championship scoring record en route to its 2015 title. The Tommies' second-round score of 297 was the best 18-hole mark in tournament history, and UST's three-day total of 937 stands as the second-best mark in MIAC Championships history. That total was good for a decisive 22-shot win to claim the conference title.
After the Tommies, Carleton finished second with a score of 959, and St. Catherine continued its rapid improvement to join the top three with a 54-hole total of 967. Saint Benedict (997) and Bethel (1,011) rounded out the top five, with Gustavus (1,014) just three shots behind the Royals in sixth. St. Olaf (1,057), Concordia (1,076), Augsburg (1,080), Saint Mary's (1,090) and Macalester (1,103) occupied spots Nos. 7-11 in the 2015 standings.
Once again, Carleton and St. Thomas have proven to be the favorites with their performance this fall. The Knights lead the MIAC with an average of 313.4 shots per round, and the Tommies aren't far behind at 316.2. After that, Bethel (322.2) and St. Catherine (322.2) are tied for the third-best mark and Saint Benedict (328.8) and Gustavus (329.2) round out a formidable top-six. St. Olaf ranks seventh at 357.4, Concordia is right behind the Oles with an average of 360.9 and Saint Mary's (375.2) and Augsburg (379) occupying the final two spots in the rankings.
The 2015 Championship saw Carleton's Grace Gilmore win her second-straight individual medalist honor, but her graduation in May means there will be a new MIAC individual champ in 2016. St. Thomas' Emily Thul is the reigning MIAC Player-of-the-Year and Carleton's Ziyi Wang was named the conference's Rookie-of-the-Year ago, and they headline an extremely deep crop of returners, as 12 of last season's 15 All-Conference golfers are back. Heading into the MIAC meet, Thul's 78.9 scoring average ranks sixth and Wang's even 77.0 average is third-best in the league.
In addition to Thul, Rachel Morris and Majra Sorensen return for the Tommies as they eye another MIAC title and a top-10 national finish. Carleton graduated Gilmore, but brings back Wang and fellow All-MIAC golfers Geraldine Tellbuescher and Ayumi Sakamoto to keep the Knights in the title conversation, and 2013 MIAC individual medalist Shannon Holden returns to the lineup after studying abroad. St. Catherine also has an All-MIAC trio back in Kaitlyn Alvarez, Abby Conzemius and Sydney Busker. Christine Piwnica is back for Bethel, Natalie Amundson returns for Saint Benedict, and McKenzie Swenson returns to the Gustavus line up to give the MIAC women a dozen returners from last year's All-Conference squad and a former medalist back as well.
A Carleton newcomer – Alyssa Akiyama – has the top scoring average of 75.5 thus far in 2016, and the rest of the top 10 is filled with familiar names. Piwnica is second (76.0) with Wang and Sakamoto (77.9) next to give the Knights three of the top four. UST's Morris (78.3) and Thul rank fifth and sixth, CSB's Amundson and St. Kate's Conzeimus share seventh at 79.0. Fellow Wildcat Alvarez and her 79.5 average rank ninth, and St. Thomas' Morgan McCorkle (79.8) rounds out the top 10 heading into the MIAC Championship. Bethel's Leah Swanson (80.1) and Gustavus' Mae Meierhenry (81.1) and Jessica Nelson (81.1) are just outside the top 10 and have had solid fall seasons as well.
St. Olaf will be led by Melissa Biesmann (84.6) and Meaghan Carney (85.1). Concordia's top players heading into the MIAC meet have been Erin Pennington (86.3) and Emily Grace Olson (88.6). Augsburg's top players this fall have been Taylor Salewske (89.3) and Isabel Karbo (90.3), and Saint Mary's has gotten an outstanding fall from Kaitlin Kling (82.3) and are also led by Madison Gately (90.5). Macalester will not participate in the 2016 MIAC Women's Golf Championship.
The three-day, 54-hole MIAC Golf Championships will tee off Saturday at 10:50 a.m. at Bunker Hills. Sunday's second round will also tee off at 10:50 a.m., and Monday's final round will tee off at 9 a.m. Spectators are welcome to attend and there is no admission fee, and spectators are encouraged to read and follow the tournament's spectator rules.
There will be a short awards ceremony following Monday's final round to honor the top teams and individuals. The championship team will receive the MIAC championship plaque, as well as the conference's automatic bid to the 2017 NCAA Division III Golf Championships. The top 10 individual finishers will be named to the All-Championship team, and will be automatically eligible for All-Conference honors in the spring.
FOLLOW THE ACTION
There are numerous ways fans that aren't traveling to Coon Rapids can follow all the action throughout the tournament. The MIAC has enhanced its (unofficial) live scoring, and now offers hole-by-hole updates through Golfstat's live scoring system. Fans will easily be able to track team and individual progress throughout all three rounds.
The MIAC has a championship home page for the event, that will serve as the online home of the tournament. The championship page will include tee times, pairings and results as they become available, as well as recaps, photos and more.
• Joe Christianson (1st season)
A Year Ago
• 8th place | Score: 1,076
Players to Watch
• Erin Pennington (Jr. | Leads the team in scoring average in 2016; Has been the team's top golfer in all three events she has played in this year)
• Emily Grace Olson (Sr. | Second on the team in scoring this year; Has been the team's No.1 golfer in the past two meets Relevant Honors & Stats)
• Alyssa Dalen (Fr. | Third on the team in scoring; has shot in the 80's in three of her last four rounds)
Did You Know?
• Head coach Joe Christianson helped Norman County West win the Minnesota State High School team title back in 1998.