PELLA — Tabitha Schumacher didn’t become a college head coach until July, she’s met only two of her players in person, her team is coming off a 10-month layoff and as of mid-August she had yet to see a final team schedule. And yet she couldn’t be more excited about the Central College women’s golf season.
The Dutch are among a handful of NCAA Division III teams competing this fall amid a global pandemic and she’s grateful for the opportunity.
The team got the word Aug. 11 that the season was a go, although what exactly that looks like in such an uncertain time is less clear.
“When I scheduled a Zoom call with the players called ‘Fall update’ I think a lot of them thought the worst,” Schumacher said, noting many other schools were having seasons postponed or canceled. “They were very grateful that we’re getting the opportunity. We know that we have to be flexible because this is a chance to play not a lot of other teams are getting.”
With the cancelation of last spring’s season, getting the team tournament-ready could present a challenge but Schumacher thinks the Dutch will be prepared.
“Golf is different than a lot of other sports because there have been a lot of tournaments this summer that have gone on as normal,” she said. “Golf is a really great outlet during all of this (pandemic). I think some players will be more ready than before because there’s less going on other than maybe work and golf.”
The first step is meeting the team.
“I had a Zoom call with the team talking about the season and I’m really excited about the group of women we have on the team,” she said. “I just want to get to know them and be able to see them face to face rather than just on a Zoom call.”
Like the coach, most of the roster is new, with no seniors, just one junior and only three returning letter winners. Only one player has had more than a semester of collegiate action. That makes for a fuzzy season outlook.
“It’s a little bit of an unknown, for sure,” Schumacher said. “There have been a couple of tournaments for some of the players that I’ve been able to keep up on. I’m optimistic that we can be as competitive as we’ve been in the past but with it being such a young team I also want to make sure we have a good team culture and it’s something we develop. So as far as expectations I don’t come in with a ton but in the future, winning conference championships is where we want to be, I just don’t know yet whether we’ll be there this year.”
The most experienced player on a squad with little is junior Rachael Danielson (Jefferson, Greene County HS). She’s battled injury but is a two-time letter winner, receiving the team’s Outstanding Freshman Award and Most Improved Player Award in 2018. She posted an 84.83 stroke average last fall.
Last year’s Outstanding Freshman Award went to Delaney Underwood (sophomore, Mitchellville, Colfax-Mingo HS) and she averaged an encouraging 85.9 and finished 18th at the American Rivers tourney. She received the team’s Outstanding Attitude Award as well.
The only other letter winner is sophomore Madison Clark (Bloomington, Ill., Central Catholic HS), who was 22nd at the league tournament and averaged 90.27.
Sophomore Whitney Anderson (Sioux Rapids, Sioux Central HS) saw action as a reserve, averaging 92.5.
That means the Dutch will need some help from the five-player freshman class, and Schumacher anticipates receiving some. Depth will be a concern, however.
After claiming the 2018 league crown, the Dutch dipped to fourth place last year, behind the University of Dubuque, Wartburg College and Luther College. Those foes will each field veteran teams this fall. Central will likely see plenty of each in the redrawn season schedule.
But it’s a start and Schumacher brings lofty goals along with confidence that Central’s facilities, including the expansive Ryerson Practice Range combined with the nearby Bos Landen Golf Club, make it a place where those ambitions can be fulfilled. The ongoing renovations to P.H. Kuyper Gymnasium through the $18 million Forever Dutch initiative have her enthused as well.
“I’m getting a sense of how special this place is,” she said. “It’s a little crazy and hectic because there’s construction going on but the fact that that’s happening during this time is awesome. Not a lot of athletics departments can say they’re renovating right now.”
In particular, the golf facilities, including the indoor hitting area, leave the program well-positioned for the future. Central has captured 10 league titles with a pair of NCAA Division III tournament appearances since 2017, a foundation Schumacher is ready to build on.
“I’m excited about the amazing facilities,” she said. “The Ryerson Range is awesome and I’ve played Bos Landen. It’s difficult for sure, you have to know where to hit the ball and the greens break a lot but it’s such an amazing course to test the players’ games. If they can play there, they can play anywhere. This is a place where we can definitely bring in great players and achieve our goals.”