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Golf swings back into form after individual season

First-year+Helena+Winterberg+prepares+to+swing+at+golf+practice+Sept.+26.+Winterberg+was+named+the+Liberty+League+Rookie+of+the+Week+on+Sept.+5+after+her+performance+at+the+St.+Lawrence+Invitational.
John Henry Downes
First-year Helena Winterberg prepares to swing at golf practice Sept. 26. Winterberg was named the Liberty League Rookie of the Week on Sept. 5 after her performance at the St. Lawrence Invitational.

The Ithaca College golf program hit a low in Spring 2023 when it was only able to field three athletes, forcing it to split into individual competitors instead of playing as a team. Now, the 2023–24 squad has returned with six athletes and is reclaiming its spot in team play. 

Head coach Keith Batson said that despite not being able to play as a team at a number of their competitions, the team was still able to play at their scheduled invitationals in the spring, just separate from one another.

“Even though we couldn’t put up a team score in three of the events, they could still place individually, so they still had that to play for,” Batson said. 

Batson said the team has six players this fall, returning it to its team status. He said the team itself is on pace for a record-setting year, currently averaging around 325 for a team score, which is one of the best years it has had. The Bombers won their opening tournament at St. Lawrence University and after a fourth place finish at Hamilton College, the south hill squad claimed another first place tournament finish at the Ithaca Invitational. 

Batson said every player has the ability to help the team continue its strong performance. 

“All six [players] are getting valuable tournament experience,” Batson said. “We have high expectations for the team and individually. If we have four players playing their best, we can compete with the top teams in the region and our two captains [junior Rheanna DeCrow] and [graduate student Cristea Park] both have an opportunity to really excel individually in our region too.”

After not having an official season last spring, Park said the non-team factor took a toll on some of the underclassmen. Despite that negative outlook, it allowed the small group to connect even more with each other.

“It was tough for some mentally, as some of the younger women on the team at the time struggled with that concept because it’s nice to play for something bigger than yourself,” Park said. “I think that the three of us at the time —  myself, Rheanna and [sophomore Annika Michel] — became really close and that really helps us for this season as it wasn’t a great situation we were in but it helped the three of us come closer.”

Park said she is thrilled with the current development of the team and is hopeful to see how the rest of this season and future seasons play out.

“I’m looking forward to keeping this momentum going that we have and I like that the three of us are keeping up with what we had last year,” Park said. “I’m also excited to see Rheanna [DeCrow] and Annika [Michel] push forward and have fun every weekend. I love seeing the progress our team is making and the growth they’ve had from their first year to now.”

Park has dropped her scoring average from 84.83 in her first year to 79.82 last season, while DeCrow has improved from 85.8 her first year to 79.03 in 2022-23. DeCrow also shot career bests of 76, 75 and 74 earlier this season.

One of those underclassmen on the team is first-year Helena Winterberg. Winterberg finished in a tie for sixth place at the St. Lawrence Invitational Sept. 3 with a score of 167, shooting an 83 on day one and an 84 on day two. With her performance, Winterberg was named the Liberty League Rookie of the Week on Sept. 5.

Winterberg said she has enjoyed her experience with the program so far and is getting used to the team environment. 

“It’s been really good, the team’s great, the coaches are great and we have a lot of fun together,” Winterberg said. “The women are really encouraging and uplifting and it’s really nice to be a part of the team. Golf is mainly an individual sport, which is what I’m more used to, but it’s nice to have that team aspect.”

Park said the preparation for the fall season is complicated because over the summer, the team has extra time between the transition from the spring season right into the fall season. A far cry from the constant schedule of the fall season where the team has tournaments every weekend.

“Summers typically look like a lot of long training by ourselves at home, as this is a time where we are kind of in and out of season at the same time,” Park said. “We try to play in as many tournaments as we can over the summer to keep that competitive state going, but it’s a lot of nitty-gritty work we do over the summer.” 

Batson’s focus on athletes’ constant offseason involvement in the sport has been important, emphasizing playing in more tournament golf over the summer to prepare for the season.

With the fall season now in full swing, Winterberg said the team takes its most recent performances and individually evaluates its strengths and weaknesses to prepare for the next tournament the following weekend.

“We spend our practices throughout the week working on things that we did poorly from the weekend before,” Winterberg said. “We keep our stats and look at what we could’ve done better and the coach is always there to help us fine-tune things. He’s really great at helping all of us physically and also mentally.”

After last spring, Batson said the returning athletes have that chip on their shoulder to return to the top this season as a team after individually performing last year.

“I think the three returners are as motivated as they have always been,” Batson said. “They didn’t lose motivation last year because we had a few events where we competed individually. It wasn’t ideal, but they knew they still had to compete and get better.”

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