Mixing It Up – Spartans show balance of veterans, youth

Qualifying is always important in the game of golf.

For the Manchester University men’s and women’s squads this fall, it may mean even more.

Head coach Tara Boone has a strong core of returners on the women’s side to go with five first years with impressive resumes. The Black and Gold men’s crew is shorter on the experience side with just two back that have prior experience, but a solid freshman class has potential.

“I like (the mix) on both teams,” she noted. “It’ll make for good competition which is what you want to see. The 36-hole qualifier before our fall openers will mean a lot, I’m sure, as there are many returners wanting to keep their slots in the top five and a group of newcomers seeking similar opportunities.”

MU’s women’s team, looking to resume and improve upon a run of six top five Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference finishes in the past seven seasons, has the quartet of seniors Katie Smith (Wabash, Ind.) and Kaitlin Powers (Indianapolis, Ind.) along with juniors Haleigh Fernandez (Selma, Ind.) and Emily Milburn (Lebanon, Ind.) to lead them into the new year. Smith averaged a team-best 87 strokes per 18 holes last year while compiling five top 10s which included meet medalist honors at Anderson University’s fall meet. Powers, a four-year member of the program, was next in line at just over 90 shots per 18 while picking up three top 15s. Fernandez had an impressive sophomore slate with three top 10 marks and meet medalist honors at the Spartans’ spring event, while Milburn turned in a top 10 in the fall.

“(The returners) understand the expectations we have inside and outside of practices and tournaments,” Boone said. “I think they will step in and lead right away.

Our freshmen have good high school statistics, but until they get a feel for college golf, it’s a bit of an unknown,” she added. “I know myself, and the team is very excited about the possibilities.”

On the men’s side of the ledger, junior Connor Labedz (Aurora, Ill.) and sophomore Zach Edwards (Plainfield, Ind.) will need to flow into leadership roles and quickly, according to MU’s coach.

“I know Connor is ready for (leadership),” she said. “He might not be accustomed to it on the level he’s going in this year, but I’m confident in what he can do. You never quite know either … one of the new players might step into a similar role.”

Labedz carded a pair of top 25s which included one in the best 15 at Anderson University’s fall meet last season. Edwards found himself in the top 40 twice and saw his season stroke average steadily improve as a freshman.

“There won’t be much time for the new players to develop as the fall season is so quick,” Boone said. “They’ll have to jump right in … it’s their chance to see what the college game is all about.”

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