Collegiate sports aren’t always about winning, but you wouldn’t know that from the way the Western golf teams have come out of the gates swinging this season.
The men’s team placed first at the Saint Martin’s and WWU Invitationals, and the women’s team placed third at their first competition in Phoenix, Arizona. With performances like that already under their belts, spirits are high, but so are expectations.
Those elevated expectations only seem to have added fuel to the fire, with the men’s team recently being named the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Team of the Week. The team also caught some national attention after ranking 14th in the first Division II Coaches Poll of the new season.
Luke Bennett, head coach of the men’s golf team, said he felt satisfied with their performances so far, though he tempered his optimism with the realities of a long season.
“They’re off to a great start, but there’s a lot of golf left to play,” Bennett said.
The men’s team is set to compete next at the Concordia Invitational in Portland, Oregon, where they performed well in the 2017-2018 season, coming in fourth out of 10 teams.
Cody Roth, senior co-captain of the men’s team, performed particularly well at the Concordia Invitational last year, placing third overall.
Roth has also performed at a high level throughout his first two tournaments of the new season, finishing strong in second place with 5-under-par at Saint Martins and fourth place with 4-under-par in the WWU Invitational. Those stand-out efforts resulted in Roth being named GNAC Golfer of the Week for the second consecutive week of the 2018-2019 season.
While Roth is helping bring in wins on the men’s side, the women’s team has an ace of their own in junior transfer student Lacy Sheldon, whose performances so far have helped her team finish in third place for both the tournament’s they’ve competed in.
A Dallas, Texas native, Sheldon played her first two years of college golf on a different set of courses during her time at the University of Montevallo in Alabama. However, Sheldon’s tee times this year will be on an entirely new and unfamiliar set of courses with every tournament she competes in.
The lack of familiarity didn’t seem to slow her down, though, as she tied for third out of 97 competitors in her very first outing as a Viking.
Sheldon shot 1-under-par at the 2018-2019 Western New Mexico University Fall Intercollegiate Tournament in Goodyear, Arizona. Her head-turning inaugural performance led her to join Roth in earning GNAC accolades as the Women’s Golfer of the Week for Sept. 24-30.
“The home field advantage is super helpful to any golfer,” Sheldon said. “So mentally going into these tournaments I try and not give myself too many expectations and let the birdies fall where they fall and not force it.”
Sheldon also points to the women’s head coach, Bo Stephan, as one of the keys behind her success. Stephan had high praise for Sheldon after her work in the competition.
“She had a great tournament,” he said. “It was a really solid performance.”
Despite enthusiasm from both Stephan and Bennett, the two stressed that it takes good performances from every competing team member to achieve the kinds of finishes they’ve had so far.
“I’m really proud of the way we’ve performed as a team,” Stephan said. “We got a good start down in Phoenix, and it just motivates everyone to keep going.”
Bennett also provided some insight into the mental aspect of playing team golf at the collegiate level.
“Team golf is a unique balance,” Bennett said. “People are used to treating it like a solo performance, but you just do the best individually that you can and give it everything you’ve got from the first tee to the last green.”
Bennett went on to acknowledge that one of the biggest factors for motivation throughout the season is team chemistry, and according to both coaches, the club atmospheres are already stellar.
“It’s fantastic,” Bennett said, practically mirroring Stephan’s own comments on team chemistry. “The way everyone is meshing and interacting, I couldn’t be happier.”