OREM — Coming off back-to-back second-place finishes at the Great West Conference Championships, head Utah Valley University women's golf coach Sue Nyhus is excited about her team's chances in 2013-14 and what lies ahead for her Wolverines as they enter the Western Athletic Conference.
"It's fantastic to be a part of the WAC," Nyhus said. "It will offer us a second way into postseason play (with the other being team ranking). To have an NCAA berth on the line at the conference championships will be a great opportunity for us. Being in the WAC will also help us with scheduling, which should help us have a better team ranking at the end of the season."
Being in the WAC will not only give UVU the opportunity to earn an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, but it will also bring name recognition and prestige to the program.
"The prominence and traditions of the WAC are definitely going to help us," Nyhus said. "We're looking forward to the competition in the WAC and are excited for the opportunities that it will give us."
Besides the consecutive second-place finishes at the GWC Championships in each of the past two seasons, Nyhus' Wolverines posted a trio of top-three finishes and five more in the top-10 in 2012-13. Since taking over the women's golf program at Utah Valley in 2010, Nyhus has helped her team to its inaugural tournament victory, its highest national finish (177 in 2012-13) and numerous schools records, including last year's team scoring average of 79.
"One constant improvement that we've had is that we continually break our own school records and we've done that steadily for the past couple of years," Nyhus said. "That is a great measuring stick for our program. As we continue to improve and break school records, we will put ourselves in a better position to make it into the NCAA Tournament."
UVU will welcome back the majority of its 2012-13 squad as it returns six letterwinners as well as one redshirt freshman. One incoming freshman will also join the Wolverines this season for a total of eight golfers on the 2013-14 roster.
"After just two days of practice it's already evident that the level of maturity is significantly higher this year," Nyhus said. "They know how to play and what it takes to be ready to play. They are also much more composed and confident and I think they are going to have a greater ability to manage themselves and their games on good days and bad days."
Four juniors — Hannah Herman (Draper, Utah), Heather Mathison (Sandy, Utah), Lynn-Marie Nagel (Polokwane, Limpopo, South Africa) and Brooke Bliss Whittaker (St. George, Utah) — will look to lead UVU after the foursome had solid sophomore campaigns a year ago. Nagel, who won the 2012 GWC Championships, is the top returner after averaging a 79.00 stroke average last season while Whittaker's scoring average of 81.00 ranks second among the returners. Herman held the fifth best scoring average on the team in 2012-13 (82.44) and Mathison was sixth (83.71).
With the 2013 GWC Golfer of the Year Jordyn Dougal now gone, Nyhus also expects big things from sophomores Cassandra Lesa (Kaneohe, Hawai'i) and Kalea Heu (Waiuku, Hawai'i). The Hawaiian duo finished fourth and seventh in scoring average, respectively, last season with averages of 82.21 and 84.21. Heu also took home GWC Freshman of the Year accolades in 2013 after she was the top freshman finisher at the conference championships, placing 19th.
The fourth-year head coach also has high expectations for her daughter Kimberly Nyhus (Orem, Utah), who redshirted her true freshman season last year, and lone newcomer Monica Yeates (Orem, Utah), who is a freshman out of Timpanogos High School.
"The two incoming players to the team will be quite an asset for us. Kim has the experience of being around the team for a year and has made significant improvements on her game over the last several months. Monica comes in with a great deal of tournament experience and a higher level of maturity than most freshmen have. She fits right in with the group as they have already welcomed her with open arms, and we are looking forward to both of them making significant contributions for us throughout the year."
Nyhus was also impressed with how hard her squad worked over the summer break.
"A high percentage of our players competed throughout the summer and did very well. We are thrilled that they took the time, energy and financial means to go out and push themselves. That constant competition is what is going to make them better in the long run. I'm very pleased with my team's efforts this summer and their improvements in their games."
The Wolverines begin their fall season Friday at the Wildcat Invitational at Davis Park Golf Course in Kaysville, Utah. UVU took third at the one-day, 18-hole tournament a year ago.
Utah Valley's lone home tournament will be Sept. 9-10, when it co-hosts the Hobble Creek Invitational with BYU at Hobble Creek GC in Springville, Utah.
"We're excited to be able to bring the Hobble Creek Tournament back. It has a rich history dating back into the 1970s that people at UVU are mostly unaware of because that event ceased to take place before Utah Valley started its women's golf program," Nyhus said. "With the help of one of my former players and current coach of BYU (Carrie Roberts), we decided to bring it back as a co-hosted situation. Originally this tournament hosted a number of Pac-12 schools and was a gathering for some of the oldest and greatest programs in the West, and we're looking forward to a great tournament at a fantastic golf course."
During the fall season, UVU will also play in Idaho at the Bronco Fall Classic (Sept. 16-17), in New Mexico at NM State's Price's Give `Em Five Classic (Oct. 7-9) and in Hawai'i for the Rainbow Wahine Invitational (Oct. 29-31).
The spring season will then feature two tournaments in St. George, Utah, and four in Arizona. One of those four tournaments will be the 2014 WAC Championships that will be held at the Longbow Golf Course in Mesa, Ariz., on April 25-27.
"We're excited to get things going on Friday," Nyhus said. "We present a stronger core than ever before. And as we develop confidence and foster that feeling of 'Yeah, this is where we belong.' (then) our team will excel both in the state and in the WAC."
James Warnick is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information about Wolverine athletics, visit www.WolverineGreen.com.