By Jason Shoot
Montana State University-Northern golf coach Chris Handley has added depth on his squad, and he hopes that translates into added success in the second half of the season.
The Skylights are currently fourth in the Frontier Conference, but by only a mere 12 strokes. And with two 54-hole tournaments highlighting the schedule this spring, Handley believes his team can certainly improve its standing in the conference.
"Most teams take five (golfers) and score four," Handley said, noting that scores from four golfers on each team are counted toward the team's final total. "All last fall we took four and scored four."
That disadvantage is multiplied if an athlete struggles and her score must be added to the team's total. An added golfer on the roster improves the team's chances of shrugging off such an incident.
This spring, Northern finally gets the chance to compete with a fullroster.
Shanda Lammerding, a Havre native, is the team's top golfer and narrowly missed joining the Frontier's all-conference team last year as a freshman.
Handley said Lammerding will face a little competition for that top spot, though, and the friendly rivalry has been spurred by two freshmen Kaycee Link and Theresa Newman.
"Kaycee is right there with Shanda," Handley said. "Getting her really helped last fall."
Newman, who joined the team following the fall season, is "looking to be the No. 1 golfer when everything is said and done," Handley said.
Kayley Brieske, a freshman from Kalispell, averaged 94 strokes every 18 holes last fall, and she will likely improve that number this spring.
Ristina Johnson, a sophomore from Glasgow, rounds out the top five Skylight golfers, and she averaged 102 strokes per round last fall, an improvement over her freshman year.
Even with the addition of Newman, Handley is hopeful he will steadily increase his team's depth and experience in the coming seasons.
"Ideally, I would like to have seven girls competing for the top five spots," he said. "We're recruiting a couple players who would add to this team incredibly."
Oddly, Handley can give some recruiting credit to Rocky Mountain College, which is currently sitting atop the Frontier in first place and is ranked in the top-5 nationally.
"Rocky Mountain has gone a long way toward gaining notoriety for this conference," Handley said.
The Skylights suffered from not being able to play outdoors for the past few months, but Beaver Creek Golf Course has provided the team with the next best thing.
The course allows the team to use its golf simulator to provide somewhat-realistic golf scenarios.
"You use your clubs and your balls, and the simulator tells you where your ball goes," Handley said. "There are different mats to simulate the kinds of rough."
The spring season includes just two tournaments one in Lewiston, Idaho, April 9-10 and the other in Salt Lake City, April 23-24.
Golfers at those tournaments will play 36 holes the first day, followed up with an additional 18 holes the next day.
"It's pretty grueling," Handley said of the two-day workout. "Somebody's going to have a bad day when you play 54 holes. But somebody who's maybe not your best golfer can sneak in a great round."