PRESCOTT — Now in their eighth year of intercollegiate play, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s men’s and women’s golf programs have not only been competitive — they’ve been proven winners in the NAIA ranks.
In 2017, the Eagles women won their fifth straight Cal Pac Conference championship to qualify for their fifth consecutive NAIA national tournament appearance. In 2016, they snared runner-up honors at nationals.
Last year, Embry-Riddle’s men placed second in the Cal Pac to champion Marymount (California) by a slim 2-stroke margin in the conference tourney. And although they didn’t reach NAIA nationals, their track record speaks for itself. Like the women, the men have won five Cal Pac conference titles.
So, what’s in store for the 2018-19 squads as they prepare to play? Well, they plan to continue to compete at a high level, putting themselves in position to capture league crowns again.
The 2018-19 season tees off on Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 17-18, at the Ottawa Fall Invitational at Eagle Nest Golf Course in Goodyear. What follows are brief synopses for Embry-Riddle’s women’s and men’s teams.
The NAIA preseason No. 11-ranked and five-time defending Cal Pac champs have only six golfers on their roster. However, coach Kim Haddow said she’s confident that the experienced bunch will fare well as long as an injury bug doesn’t creep into the picture.
Four of the five golfers who led the Eagles to a ninth-place finish at the 2017 nationals have returned.
“The six ladies that we have on the squad right now are all highly competitive, so it’s going to be competitive to make the Top 5 [team’s starting five],” Haddow said. “And that competition alone will keep them sharp all year long.”
Junior Jessica Williams of Tucson (team’s No. 1 golfer), seniors Nicole Lopes of Kaneohe, Hawaii, and Elle Carlson of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, (team’s No. 2) lead the Eagles. Rounding out the roster are juniors Megan Hessil of Franklin, Wisconsin, and Tana House of Columbus, Montana, and freshman Kendall McBean of Mesa.
“Last year, we didn’t have anybody come in [freshmen or transfers], so we all got to gain a lot of experience,” Williams said. “A lot of us played all of the tournaments. This year, competitive-wise, we’re excited to get back out, and we all know our personal gains better from last year and especially what to work on.”
Lopes said she hopes to make a fourth straight trip to nationals with Embry-Riddle this season.
“It’s been quite the ride — four years is a long time,” said Lopes, the lone four-year senior on the women’s team. “The coaches have been so helpful. You couldn’t really ask for a better four years, not in the golf world at least.
“Winning tournaments is so hard to do, and to have the success we’ve had, especially two years ago coming in second at nationals and getting another Top 10 finish last year, it’s amazing.”
Carlson said “playing well” and “saving strokes at every opportunity you get” will be important this season with a smaller team. The Eagles play a solid long game off the tee, but they are still working to improve their short game on the greens.
“Even though we’re small, we do have each other’s backs,” she added. “Our mental game is strong. This is a really special group of young ladies.”
Embry-Riddle’s men’s team is 12 players deep, and includes one senior in Garrett Hogan of Sachse, Texas, four juniors, three sophomores and four freshmen.
Hogan and juniors Kyle Peterson of Peoria and Lewis Breslin of Glasgow, Scotland, guide the unit.
Juniors Zach Johnson of Buckeye and Lance Mitchell of Prescott, sophomores LJ Kruszewski of Chesapeake, Virginia, Sean Poling of Phoenix, Collin Sprous of Lubbock, Texas, and freshmen Joseph Allen of Gig Harbor, Washington, Grey Brewer of Centennial, Colorado, Tyler Carroll of Carlsbad, California, and Connor Wallace of Fish Camp, California, complete the roster.
“Tyler and Grey Brewer, as freshmen, have qualified for the team [in the team’s Nos. 2 and 3 spots, respectively] in this first event,” Mike Haddow said of his team’s Top 5 starting golfers. “So, along with Garrett [No. 1], Kyle [No. 4] and Zach [No. 5], we have a pretty good mixture [of starters].
“This team is as deep and as strong and as competitive as we’ve ever had in our 1 through 10, 11 spots.”
Of that group, only Allen is a transfer, starting his schooling at Gonzaga his first semester for personal reasons.
“We have a lot of skill from every class, even though we only have one senior who’s very skilled,” Peterson said. “We have two freshmen in the Top 5; that’s good to see. As a team, we’re long off the tee, yet controlled.”
Hogan added that if the Eagles improve their mental game in tournament play, they will be fine.
“Our strength is probably depth,” he said. “We have upwards of eight to nine guys that can [score] 75 or below on any given day, and a couple that can go under par and win any given tournament.”
• Oct. 8, 9: ERAU Co-ed Invitational, 7:30 a.m., Antelope Hills Golf Course’s North Course in Prescott
• Nov. 5: National Fall Preview, TBA, La Sendas Golf Course in Mesa
• March 10-12: ERAU Spring Invitational, 9 a.m., Antelope Hills Golf Course’s South Course in Prescott
• March 18, 19: Battle at Primm, TBA, Primm Valley Golf Course in Primm, Nevada
• April 8-10: Cal Pac Championship, TBA, Red Hawk Golf Club in Sparks, Nevada
• May 14-17: NAIA National Championship, TBA, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (Women)
• May 21-24: NAIA National Championship, TBA, La Sendas Golf Course in Mesa (Men)
Doug Cook is a reporter for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter at @dougout_dc. Email him at email@example.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2039.