Tons of talent back in 2016-17 as MIAC golf tees off

Tons of talent back in 2016-17 as MIAC golf tees off

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Golfers around the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) are getting ready to tee off and start the 2016-17 season and, after a historic campaign around the conference a year ago, both men and women student-athletes can't wait to take out their drivers and get things started.

There was history made for both genders a year ago at the 2016 MIAC Golf Championships. On the women's side, the University of St. Thomas set a pair of conference championship scoring records en route to their title. The Tommies' second-round score of 297 was the best 18-hole mark in tournament history, and it combined with their 311 on the final day for a 36-hole record of 608 as well. UST's three-day total of 937 stands as the second-best mark in MIAC Championships history and was good for a decisive 22-shot win to claim the conference title.

On the men's side, the history came in the form of drama, as Augsburg College held of St. Thomas by a single shot – 895 to 896 – to give the Auggies the title exactly 20 years since their last MIAC championship. Augsburg shot a blistering 292 on day one and held enough of a cushion to hold off a final-day charge from the Tommies, who carded a 296 over the final 18 holes, in one of the most memorable finishes in MIAC golf history.

Both Bethel and Gustavus were tied for third just six shots back of Augsburg (901) to give the MIAC an extremely formidable top four in 2015. Saint John's (914) edged Concordia (915) for another one-shot margin to grab the final spot in the top five. St. Olaf (932) was seventh, Carleton (951) was eighth, Macalester (980) finished ninth and Saint Mary's (995) rounded out the 2015 men's standings.

After the Tommies was Carleton in 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.

The good times didn't stop there for several of the MIAC teams and individuals, as the conference sent three teams and two individuals to the NCAA Championships, where St. Thomas enjoyed a pair of top-10 finishes. The Tommie men – who received an at-large bid – finished fifth in the nation, and the women nearly equaled that feat with an eighth-place showing. The Augsburg men also qualified thanks to the MIAC title, and finished 26th, failing to make the cut after two rounds.

Both MIAC Golfers-of-the-Year – who both return in 2016 – were spectacular on the national stage. UST's Emily Thul finished third individual at the NCAA Women's Championship, and was just four shots back of the individual national champ. Fellow Tommie Pete Sienko, the MIAC Men's Player-of-the-Year, tied for 16th with teammate Jack Riester to pace the conference's men at the National Championships. Carleton teammates Grace Gilmore and Ziyi Wang both qualified as individuals and impressed as well, as Wang – the MIAC Rookie-of-the-Year – took 21st and Gimore – MIAC Senior-of-the-Year – finished 23rd.

With both MIAC Players-of-the-Year back – Thul and Sienko – as well as both Rookie-of-the-Year winners – Wang and Gustavus' Max Savini – there's plenty of star power back to headline the MIAC courses in 2016-17, although those four certainly aren't alone. In all, 12 of the 15 MIAC Women's All-Conference honorees are back for their respective teams, and nine of the 15 All-MIAC men also return to generate an unprecedented level of excitement and expectations for the new season.

On the women's side, St. Thomas brings back Thul, Rachel Morris and Majra Sorensen 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.

St. Olaf starts the new season in a good spot with its top player – Meghan Carney – back after a pair of top-five individual finishes a year ago. Hayley Johnson is back to lead Concordia again in 2016-17, after recording the team's top average as a junior a year ago. Isabel Karbo had a breakout rookie campaign for Augsburg last season, and she'll look to move up the Auggies' lineup as a sophomore. Saint Mary's is excited about the return and continued improvement of Kaitlin Kling, as her scoring average led the Cardinals by more than three shots in 2015-16. Macalester will be led by a new face as Tucker Weisman takes over as head coach of the men's and women's programs. Weisman is no stranger to the MIAC, as he golfed for St. Olaf from 2004-08 and placed 13th at the MIAC Championships as a senior. 

The men certainly have plenty of returning talent as well, with St. Thomas' Sienko and Gustavus' Savini leading a crew that includes two-thirds of last year's All-Conference team. Defending champ Augsburg brings back All-Conference performers Michael Barrette and Brett Gaustad, and the Tommies return Sienko and at least two others back in the lineup from last season's top-five national finish. Gustavus also has a pair of All-MIAC players back in Savini and Chris Captain – the conference's last two Rookie-of-the-Year award winners. Bethel brings back Alex Case and Grant Exsted for their senior seasons after All-MIAC accolades in 2015-16, Saint John's star Ryan Gallagher returns, and Concordia's Cade Montplaisir is back atop the Cobber lineup after All-Conference honors a year ago as well.

St. Olaf has Chris Winge back after leading the team in scoring and earning a top-10 finish a year ago. Carleton will look to David Bae to lead the Knights this season after he had the team's second-best scoring average in 2015-16. Macalester welcomes Drew Gumlia back for his senior season after leading the Scots in scoring and finishing in the top 10 twice as a junior, and Saint Mary's looks to junior Brett Jackson to continue his improvement after two top-10 finishes and the team's second-best scoring average last season.

Fortunately for MIAC golfers and fans alike, the final preparations are almost complete and that first tee box isn't far off. The 2016-17 season begins in a big way on Saturday, Sept. 3. Nine of the 10 men's teams will all square off at the Augsburg Invitational, with Gustavus headed to Lexington, Ky., to begin its campaign at the Transylvania Invite. More than half of the women's teams will all tee off their season Saturday at the College of Saint Benedict Invitational as well, as the campaign starts off with a pair of big-time events.

The season's biggest tournament – the 2016 MIAC Golf Championships – will return to Bunker Hills Golf Course in Coon Rapids, Minn., though the three-day, 54-hole championship event will be held a week later than usual. This year, the tournament will tee off on Saturday, Oct. 8, and will run through Monday, Oct. 10, with all teams playing an 18-hole round on each of the tournament's three days. The men's and women's winners will receive the MIAC championship, as well as an automatic bid to the 2017 NCAA Championships.

In addition to this look at the season ahead, the full MIAC preview - with a conference outlook and team-by-team previews - will be released in advance of the 2016 MIAC Golf Championships in an effort to promote the sport's marquee event. However, below are helpful links to track all the MIAC golf action this fall, including links to the 2016 fall schedules, championship home page and team pages for each MIAC squad.

MIAC Men's Golf Links: | Home Page | 2016 MIAC Championships | 2016 Schedule | Team Pages | 2015-16 Stats | Archives | Recordbook |

MIAC Women's Golf Links: | Home Page | 2016 MIAC Championships | 2016 Schedule | Team Pages | 2015-16 Stats | Archives | Recordbook |