By Dean Holzwarth
The Hope College women's golf team is going to have a different look this fall.
One of the best female golfers in team history has graduated, leaving behind a young roster consisting of only one senior, two sophomores and a bevy of newcomers.
A changing of the guard has begun, and coach Greg Stafford is eager to see how it will all play out.
"I had a blast with those girls for so long, and I'm just really looking forward to a completely new challenge," Stafford said. "It's almost a completely new team."
The Flying Dutch open the season Friday with a 2 p.m. match play event against Albion College at The Ravines Golf Course. Hope competes in the Calvin Invitational on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Photo by Alan Babbitt
Megan Klintworth was a three-time Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association champion and the catalyst of the Flying Dutch the past four years. She won't be easily replaced, but three returning players will attempt to fill the void left by her departure.
Ariana Stewart of Kalamazoo, Michigan (Comstock), is the lone senior. She will be joined by sophomores Abigail Meder of Lansing, Michigan (Catholic Central) and Jordyn Rioux of Farmington, Michigan (Livonia Ladywood).
"Megan was the best player in Hope College history, and I wish I could say we're going to replace her, but it isn't possible," Stafford said. "We're going to miss her score a lot, but we're also going to miss her leadership. With Ariana and Abby and Jordyn, we have three great leaders there and it's a very good foundation for league this year and the future also."
Klintworth's absence will provide others the opportunity to step up and prove their worth.
Stewart hopes to take advantage of that chance.
"Last year was my first year on the golf team, and there is more pressure on me coming back," she said. "I was getting more consistent scores, and I know I have to be that consistent scorer on the team."
Meder learned a lot from watching Klintworth, and aspires to help the seven incoming freshmen become acclimated to the collegiate level as Klintworth did.
"She was an awesome player, but more than that she was an amazing teammate," Meder said. "She was really great at making sure everyone felt comfortable on the team. She stepped up as a leader.
"It's difficult to lose her because she was not only a great golfer, she's a great person. But it will also give room for the new players to come in and start their own team and build from the ground up and decide for themselves what kind of team they want to make it."
Stafford is confident in his three returner's ability to bring the freshmen up to speed.
"They are three very mature girls and good leaders," Stafford said. "They are embracing their new roles. They enjoy it."
Stewart has already begun the process of becoming an approachable figure for her new teammates. She has provided advice and guidance.
"I've been in contact with them this summer and they've been asking questions about what they should do, and honestly, what I've been telling them to do is just play," Stewart said. "Getting holes in, and just playing is how they are going to get better and how we're going to get better as a team."
Although it's too early to tell which freshmen will make an impact, there is optimism surrounding this class.
"We're going to have a good team no matter who we put as the six going into a match," Stewart said. "We have a lot of talent coming in so it should be an interesting season to grow and just see what they can do coming into college."
Stafford agreed that time will tell in regards to what they will bring to the team.
"It's good that we have big numbers and we have some quality in there, but we're going to have to take time and see what happens," he sad. "There are few Megan Klintworth's that come in freshman year and win the league. Most of the time it is an adjustment period."
Added Meder: "We're excited for the season and I think they are going to be great additions to the team. It's going to be a great situation for us as we start the season."