Minot State University's golfers hope the return of playable 18-hole courses in the area coincides with lower team scores for the 2013 fall season.
Women's coach Whitney Aberle thinks a top-five finish in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference is attainable after a 10th-place showing last season. First-year men's coach Randy Westby expects his squad to be right near the top of the NSIC following a fourth-place tie last season.
The women's team opens its schedule Saturday at the two-round Concordia College (Minn.) Open. The Beaver men finished third at the same tournament this weekend and get their first taste of conference competition beginning Monday at the NSIC Fall Preview. The event is held at Madden's Resort in Brainerd, Minn., the same course that will host the NSIC Fall Championships.
"We have a real strong first five or six," Westby said. "I believe we'll contend for the NSIC title. We'll find out where we're at this weekend at the conference preview."
The men's team returns reigning conference champion Kowan O'Keefe, who showed remarkable consistency last season as a sophomore.
"He's always gonna be just a confident player," senior Cody Duchscherer said. "That's kind of his mentality and it rubs off on all of us, too."
Duchscherer and senior Casey Gleich also spent time in the varsity lineup last season. Redshirt freshman Karson O'Keefe, Kowan's brother, and Watford City graduate Nick Leibel are expected to round out the top five.
Kowan O'Keefe led the NSIC with an average round of 73.7 strokes in 2012-13 and Gleich was 15th at 76.6. Westby said all five of his starters are capable of breaking 75 consistently.
"I think 300, depending on toughness of the golf course and the weather, is about as bad as we're gonna be," he said. "I hope to be around 290 pretty regularly."
Both teams are benefiting from the return of the 18-hole layout at the Souris Valley Golf Course following the 2011 flood. The recently opened Vardon Golf Club provides another local 18-hole practice course.
"We've actually got 18 holes in this year because we have an 18-hole golf course," sophomore Danielle Foster said. "We've just been practicing harder, longer and we're pretty confident heading into this weekend."
The women's team returns its top two golfers - seniors Mackenzie Nagel and Rebecca Heinitz. Aberle said Foster and freshman Kayla Barke are the team's Nos. 3 and 4 players, with a group of four battling to fill the fifth spot.
"We have two seniors that have really stepped up and taken control," Aberle said. "The younger ones, they got a feel for it and we're definitely seeing more confidence."
Nagel led the team with an 84.6 average round last season. Heinitz was second with an average of 89.1.
Daniel Allar reports on Minot State University athletics and assists with high school coverage. Follow him on Twitter @DAllar_MDN.