The Nebraska women's golf team will be one of the youngest in the Big Ten and the nation in 2012-13.
Returning starters Steffi Neisen and Katelyn Wright will lead a nine-player Husker roster that is without any seniors. The remainder of the roster consists of seven freshmen, including four true freshmen and a trio of redshirts.
"This year looks to be a rebuilding year on paper, with only two returning starters and no other players with collegiate experience," Nebraska Coach Robin Krapfl said. "But the potential is there for us to become a pretty good team. Steffi and Katelyn will need to provide strong leadership on and off the golf course to help our young team grow and develop."
Neisen has plenty of experience to draw upon as she assumes the role of a leader. The junior from New Prague, Minn., has been in the Husker lineup for 65 consecutive rounds in her first two seasons. She completed her sophomore season with Nebraska's No. 2 stroke average (76.67) in 2011-12. Her year included a school-record round of 66 at the Mountain View Collegiate on March 23. She notched three top-10 tournament finishes on the year, including a tie for second at the Alamo Invitational, Oct. 30-Nov. 1, when she fired a career-best 214 over three rounds. She closed her second year in Nebraska's starting lineup by tying for 25th at the 2012 Big Ten Championships.
"I think Steffi is ready and excited to be the leader of this team. In fact, I think she will thrive in this role," Krapfl said. "She has the personality and drive to be a role model for the younger players. We have been very fortunate the last two years to have great senior leadership for her to learn from and build on."
A standout in the classroom and in the community, Neisen was honored as a Big Ten Sportsmanship Award recipient, while also earning academic All-Big Ten honors. She also captured NGCA Scholastic All-America recognition for the second straight year.
"As a coach it is exciting when a player suddenly 'gets it' and starts blossoming in front of your eyes. We see that happening with Steffi," Krapfl said. "We have been telling her from day one how good she is and can become, and as her list of accomplishments grows, she is starting to believe."
Wright was also in the starting lineup throughout the 2011-12 campaign. The junior from Incline Village, Nev., competed in all 33 rounds for the Huskers and continued to shave strokes off her game as the season progressed. She started slow and battled some health issues in the fall, but came on strong in the spring. In one three-tournament stretch, Wright averaged 75.77, including a career-best 218 at the Westbrook Invitational in Peoria, Ariz.
"At the Westbrook tournament Katelyn really showed what she is capable of doing and so much more," Krapfl said. "Katelyn is a dynamic player. When things are on, she is amazing to watch because she makes it look so easy. Katie has a beautiful golf swing with the length to be able to dominate the course.
"I'm really excited to see what Katelyn will do this year. She has the ability to not only be our most improved player, but also one of the most improved in the Big Ten. When you take a multi-sport athlete like Katie was, it takes a couple of years to catch up with those players who only played golf. But when that athlete breaks out, great things can happen. With Katie's work ethic, she has put in the time it takes and is ready to break out."
The remaining spots in Nebraska's lineup will be filled by freshmen. Second-year Huskers Jackie O'Doherty, Morgan Smejkal and Cassidy Stelzmiller all redshirted in their first seasons in Nebraska's program in 2011-12.
"All three redshirt freshmen worked extremely hard to expand their games and hone their skills. It is exciting to see players really take advantage of that year to work hard and improve," Krapfl said. "The three of them really embraced the year away from competition, putting in long hours of tedious practice to be ready to compete this season."
O'Doherty, a two-time Nebraska Class A state champion at Lincoln East High School, was a three-time Class A all-state pick in golf. She was also a member of the 2011 Four State Team and the 2010 Nebraska Junior Golf All-Star Team. She was also a competitive swimmer and posted better than a 4.0 GPA at Lincoln East.
"Jackie is a a great student with a wonderful personality and a good work ethic. She has good length, a solid golf swing and possesses a strong competitive side," Krapfl said. "She is coming off a hand injury that had her sidelined much of the summer, but it may be a blessing in disguise because she was forced to only work on her short game. It is going to be a battle between the freshmen to see who emerges into a prominent role in the lineup, but I would not be surprised if Jackie captures one of those spots."
Smejkal, a Columbus, Neb., native, was a two-time Class A all-state selection and produced a pair of top-five finishes at the state tournament. She was also a member of the Nebraska Junior Golf All-Star Team in 2009 and 2010, and she was a member of the 2010 and 2011 Nebraska Four State Team. She was also an outstanding basketball player who set Columbus High's three-point record.
"Morgan was recruited as an athlete with potential to develop into a college-level golfer, and she has embraced that goal," Krapfl said. "We have had quite a few hard-working athletes in my tenure, and Morgan's work ethic is right up there with the best. You've got to love a kid who gives it her all in everything she does. Not only that, she has also embraced what being a great teammate is all about. Morgan has good length, is meticulous in her thought process and hates to lose. As soon as she can get away from thinking too much and just play, she could develop into one heck of a player."
Stelzmiller was a highly regarded recruit from Placerville, Calif., who had success as a junior player. She competed in several major events, including the Women's Trans.
"We headed into last season thinking Cassidy could help us right away, and even though I think she could have, I'm glad she elected to take the year off and develop her game. It is exciting to think of how far she can progress in the next four years," Krapfl said. "She has excellent length and a great touch on the greens. With a year of maturity, we are hoping for big things from Cassidy."
The final ingredients to Nebraska's 2012-13 team come from four true freshmen, including two international players. The freshmen will all be given an opportunity to compete for positions in the lineup.
Cassie Deeg could make an immediate impact. The Hugo, Minn., native captured the 2011 Minnesota state title while helping Stillwater Area High School to runner-up team finishes in both 2011 and 2012.
Deeg added a third-place individual Class 3A finish in 2012, and was also the Minnesota Women's Match Play runner-up.
"Cassie will be pushing those juniors for the top spot in our lineup, which I love," Krapfl said. "It just makes our team that much better. Cassie is a complete player, with good length, solid play in all areas of the game, and she is a proven winner. Plus she is a quality student with a wonderful personality."
Another true freshman with an excellent chance to contribute early is Hannah Luebke. One of the top young golfers in Germany, Luebke became the first European player to sign with the Huskers since Catha Fogelberg (Sweden) in 1997-98. A native of Stuttgart, Luebke is the second German to join the Huskers in history, following in the footsteps of Shirin Hornecker (Munich), who played for Nebraska from 1996 to 1998.
Luebke finished second in the BWGW International Match Play and third at the German Youth National Championships. At 6-foot-1, Luebke was also an All-German performer as a middle blocker/outside hitter on the volleyball court in both 2009 and 2010.
"Hannah's strength lies in her long game," Krapfl said. "As her short game develops, she will become a formidable force in our lineup. I've always enjoyed the cultural exchange that takes place when you add international players to your team, and Hannah's personality is going to fit right in."
Another player adding international flavor is Yoorim Kang from Toronto, Ontario. A walk-on, Kang is expected to add depth for the Huskers while she adjusts to the collegiate game.
"I wasn't really looking to add any players, but I was so impressed with Yoorim's desire to walk on and prove herself," Krapfl said. "Anyone who is that motivated deserves a chance. Yoorim has a nice golf swing. She needs to lower her scores consistently, but if she can do that, she may have a chance to be in the battle for a lineup spot. She has played in some good tournaments and has the experience to know what it takes to compete at this level."
Nebraskan Abbie Hunke rounds out the 2012-13 Husker roster. The walk-on from Snyder, Neb., finished fourth as a senior in the 2011 Nebraska Class B State Tournament for West Point-Beemer/Scribner-Snyder. She also finished eighth at the 2010 Class C State Tournament, after competing her first two years of high school on the boys team.
Hunke enjoyed a strong summer of 2012, competing on the Nebraska Four State Team, while also advancing to the semifinals of the Nebraska Junior Match Play Championships.
An outstanding all-around athlete, Hunke played three years of high school basketball and also competed in softball.
"Abbie is another one of those Nebraska kids who is an athlete, having been an outstanding basketball player in high school," Krapfl said. "It would probably benefit Abbie to redshirt to give her a year to develop her all-around game, but we are so young you just never know what is going to happen. Abbie has good length, which helps when adjusting to collegiate courses."
Nebraska's young squad will be challenged by an outstanding schedule that tees off at its own Chip-N Club Invitational at the Country Club of Lincoln, Sept. 10-11.
The Huskers hit the road for the first time by traveling to The Golfweek Challenge in Vail, Colo., Sept. 24-26, where they will face 17 teams from 17 conferences. NU then heads to the Prices New Mexico State Invitational in Las Cruces, N.M., Oct. 8-10.
The following week the Huskers will compete in the Missouri State/Payne Stewart Memorial, Oct. 15-16, in Springfield, Mo., before concluding the fall season at the Alamo Invitational in San Antonio, Texas, Oct. 28-30.
The spring schedule tees off at Purdue's Lady Puerto Rico Invitational, Feb. 10-12, in Rio Mar, P.R. NU then journeys to Peoria, Ariz., to compete in the Westbrook Spring Invite, Feb. 24-25. Two weeks later, the Huskers return to Arizona to compete in Notre Dame's Clover Cup in Mesa, March 8-10.
The Huskers close the regular season at the SMU/Dallas Athletic Club Invitational, April 5-7, before competing at the 2013 Big Ten Championships in French Lick, Ind., April 26-28. The Huskers will seek their 12th NCAA Regional bid since 1994 when they head to their second Big Ten Tournament.
NCAA Regional competitions will be held in Norman, Okla. (Central), Stanford, Calif. (West) and Auburn, Ala. (East), before Athens, Ga., plays host to the NCAA Championships, May 21-24.
"Our schedule is set up for our young players to experience success, while challenging them against the nation's best," Krapfl said. "I'm excited to see this team develop and grow. They have the talent and the game. When the confidence and belief matches it, great things can happen.