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By Nathan Pace
The ladies golf team from the University of Indianapolis begins its quest today for its second consecutive NCAA Division II championship.
Competing in Aurora, Colo., the team has earned powerhouse status and is the school’s crown jewel.
“Our goal all season was to have a chance to repeat,” coach Brent Nicoson said. “We lost three seniors (from last year) but only one of them was at the national championship. A lot of these girls have experience.”
Last year’s squad was the team from outside of Florida to win the D-II championship. A northern state having success against schools in climates allowing for year-round play was seemingly ambitious, but Nicoson doesn’t see weather as a big obstacle.
“We don’t ever use that as an excuse. If you want to get better, you can get better wherever you are,” Nicoson said. “We have an indoor facility that we just built a couple of years ago. I think recruiting is where they have an advantage; they attract more people because of the nice weather. As far as playing and practicing, it makes our kids tougher to play in tougher conditions.”
The momentum from last year’s title didn’t last long in 2016 as returning sophomore Annika Haynes was lost to the season with a torn ACL. New players had to accelerate their development, which was the case through transfers and freshman Katharina Keilich, who’s from Wetzlar, Germany, and was named Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year in the Great Lakes Valley Conference.
Brooke Beegle came to UIndy this year after starting her college career at Purdue. Sophomore Kylie Raines played at Eastern Michigan before joining UIndy this season.
“Mostly though it has felt the same,” Beegle said of the change. “Our team is competitive just like we were at Purdue; that has made it slightly easier to transition.”
Nicoson, a Beech Grove alumnus who resides in Center Grove, sees the growth of the young players as a bright sign for the program. In addition to Keilich, he has another international recruit coming in next year from Guatamala.
“With who we have coming in and the young girls we have now,” Nicoson said, “it’s going to be pretty challenging just to get into the line-up. I am pretty excited about our program.”
UIndy has two sophomores – one being Paxton DeHaven – and a freshman in its top five line-up. DeHaven competed in the national championships last year. “I kinda know now what to expect; last year I didn’t,” she said. “We are just hoping to go out there, be in the last group on the last day and be in contention again.”
Senior Molly Ward and Raines round out the roster playing in Colorado through Saturday.
UIndy won the regional earlier this month to handily qualify for the 12-team nationals. Going into the final the round the Greyhounds were up 22 strokes and cruised to first place by 17 shots. Not getting overconfident will be key as the Greyhounds know they are a target.
“We just try to take tournaments one at a time and not get ahead of ourselves,” DeHaven said.
While the players know the challenge ahead of them this week, they also understand the significance if they prevail in defending their title.
“It would be a huge honor to do that,” Beegle said. “It would be really cool to be a part of that history if we can win back-to-back national championships.”