SIOUX CITY | Sure, having four all-conference freshmen was a huge contributing factor in Briar Cliff’s first-ever Great Plains Athletic Conference women’s team championship.
But what helped fuel the Charger women’s golf team even more was a combination of consistency and leadership throughout the program.
Briar Cliff staged a monumental comeback to capture the GPAC title – the school’s first women’s conference championship in any sport – and qualify for the NAIA Women’s Golf National Championship, which begins Tuesday at Palm Beach, Florida.
The Chargers trailed Morningside by 30 strokes after the first of three GPAC qualifiers held last fall. They made up 19 shots to trim the deficit to 11 after two rounds and drew even with the Mustangs heading into the final round before eventually winning by 16.
“I cannot be more impressed by the combination of consistency and leadership throughout the women’s program,” said BCU Coach Ben Irlbeck, who was named GPAC Coach of the Year. “Yes, we have four all-conference freshmen, but what has been consistent behind the scenes are players numbered 5-10 averaging less than a half dozen shots outside the top five.”
The leaders of the Charger pack, so to speak, are freshmen Taylor Minger, Nicole Hemelberg, Abby Brinkman and Arianna Presilla, each of whom earned All-GPAC honors.
Minger, from Champlin Park, Minnesota, tied for fourth (out of 69 golfers) in the GPAC and held steady with an average of 81 nearly the entire season.
Hemelberg, a long hitter from Colombia, finished seventh individually in the GPAC and according to Irlbeck has come on strong down the stretch. She has the unique ability to drive the ball 275 yards and maintain a soft touch around the greens, averaging 84 for 18 holes this season with a low of 74 at The Ridge in Sioux Center.
Both Brinkman, a Jackson, Minnesota, product and Presilla, from Weston, Florida, have carded sub-80 scores throughout the year. Presilla wound up ninth in the final GPAC individual standings.
Three juniors got the Chargers heading in the right direction a couple of years ago. Lindsey Sorlie and Morgan Steele were among the top five players on the team last season, but have had to watch from the sidelines because of the emergence of the young players.
“I know they weren’t pleased to be on the second team, but I gave them many opportunities to regain their place on the top five,” Irlbeck said. “When they were beat out by their teammates they responded with understanding, disappointment and class. They have been here since August helping the freshmen on and off the course.”
Camaraderie, Irlbeck said, has also been essential to the success. Study tables, ice cream nights at Culver’s or trips to Cherry Berry for frozen yogurt are a common occurrence.
Steele’s average of 87.5 last season, although sharing the top spot with Abby Gerhardt, would not have been low enough to garner a top five position this season.
Gerhardt, a sophomore, partially tore an ACL ligament in her right knee while playing intramural basketball in February. She was able to walk and play on it for six weeks before finally having an MRI done, exposing the internal damage and she wound averaging 87.1, good enough for the sixth spot.
Her cousin, junior Brooke Kroeger, slid into the role of fifth and was given the opportunity to play the last two tournaments in a varsity role. Kroeger shot 85-84 at the Northwestern/Dordt Invite and posted a top 10 in the spring championship, lowering her season average to 87.07.
Rounding out the roster are sophomore Maisie Hurd and freshman Allie Heineman, who had spring averages of 88 and 90, respectively