Champions! Central dominates league women’s golf tourney

AMES—It was a runaway.

Erasing the disappointment of the title that got away last fall, the Central College women’s golf team left no doubt, placing four players in the top five and winning the American Rivers championship by 42 shots Monday.

It’s Central’s 11th league crown and the program’s first since 2018. It also gives the Dutch an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III Championships May 9-12 at the Mission Inn Resort and Club at Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida. It will be Central’s third team appearance in the national tourney.

Central posted three consistent rounds to finish at 317-305-314—936 at the par-71 Ames Golf and Country Club, outdistancing the University of Dubuque which shot 321-323-334—978 in the 54-hole, three-day tourney . Wartburg College was third at 324-345-346—1015 and Coe College was fourth at 348-336-337—1021.

And the Dutch did it without the league’s coach of the year, Tabitha Schumacherwho gave birth to her first daughter early Saturday morning, but Dutch men’s golf coach Mel Blasi stepped in to shepherd the squad through the weekend.

Sophomore Lydia Grond, Central’s No. 5 player, was the surprise medalist of the league tournament.

While Central returned its entire top five from a team that entered last year’s league tourney with title hopes but finished second, it was a member of last fall’s junior varsity who fueled the championship run. Lydia Grond (sophomore, Hull, Boyden-Hull HS)who carried a 91.0 stroke average last year and made her first varsity appearance late last month, earning the team’s No. 5 position, soared to medalist honors with 78-74-80—232.

“Obviously, a star is born,” Blasi said with a smile. “She was terrific from the beginning, just playing one shot at a time and played very smart. She took advantage of the opportunities she had. She struggled on the front nine today and then came back and played really well on the back nine. I ‘m really happy for her. I know how much she’s worked at it. What a great thing to have your fifth player win the tournament.”

Thea Lunning (senior, Mason City)
was second at 76-80-79—235 while . Delaney Underwood (senior, Mitchellville, Colfax-Mingo HS) placed third at 78-76-82—236 and Mackenzie Biggs (junior, Bloomington, Ill., Normal HS) found some answers after the first round and surged to fifth place at 85-76-77—238, posting the day’s best round Monday.

All four received all-conference honors. It was the third time for Biggs, who was third in 2020 and sixth last year, and also for Underwood, who was seventh last year, and for Lunning, who was eighth in 2021.

Madison Clark (senior, Bloomington, Ill., Central Catholic HS)who tied for 10th last year, narrowly missed gaining all-conference distinction, finishing 12th at 90-79-78—247.

Central, which led by just four shots after the first round Saturday, expanded the gap to 22 shots Sunday and hit the accelerator Monday.

“I think they just went out and played the course without worrying about what other teams were doing,” Blasi said. “It was a total team effort. You had Madison (Clark) and Mackenzie (Biggs) playing out front today and shooting 77 and 78. I think that really set the tone with the way they played the front nine and then it was the top three players at the end. I think 314 was a pretty good score today.”

Thea Lunning follow-through
Senior Thea Lunning was the conference runner-up, gaining all-conference honors for the second time.

Blasi said it was obvious the Dutch were determined to atone for last year’s title miss.

“They really felt like they didn’t play their best last year,” he said. “They knew they had a good shot this year if they worked hard and I know–because I’m out at the range a lot—how hard they’ve worked. It’s nice to see them get rewarded for the extra effort they put into it.”

Several members of the Dutch men’s and women’s squads played golf in Scotland late last spring and Blasi saw the benefits of that as well.

“I think the Scotland trip really helped in a lot of ways,” he said. “It brought the team closer. These players really have good chemistry. They genuinely like each other and want each other to do well. That’s worth a lot.”

Blasi also saluted Schumacher, who has a conference champion in her third season as head coach at Central.

“From the time Tabitha got here, she has communicated with her team that winning a conference championship is a goal and I know her eye has been on this for a long time,” Blasi said. “It’s too bad she’s not here today but I’m sure she’s still really enjoying it. The players are really excited to go see her when they get back.”

Delaney Underwood swing
Delaney Underwood, placed third to win all-conference honors for a third time.