Aug. 25, 1999
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Remarkable. Unbelievable. Tremendous.
All of those words ? and more ? were used to describe the 1998-99 Michigan State women?s golf season. But perhaps most telling is the way head coach Stacy Slobodnik describes last year.
?Last year served as a stepping stone to the level of golf we expect to play year in and year out,? said Slobodnik, who enters her third season at the helm of the rising program. ?We would like to compete every year at that level and continue to grow.
?I think it was a fun year for our seniors, who had never had that kind of success at Michigan State. For our younger student-athletes, it served as a good guide in their minds for what we expect from here on out.?
Clearly, Slobodnik doesn?t expect the success which brought an NCAA East Regional appearance, top-five finishes in all 10 regular-season tournaments and three tournament championships to disappear when the 1999-2000 season kicks off Sept. 17-19 when MSU defends its Lady Northern title at Wisconsin.
Also in 1998-99, the Spartans moved to third in the Big Ten Championship after finishing ninth the year before, the biggest one-year improvement in conference history.
Now the Spartans? goals are focused on maintaining their level of play and reaching some goals ? like a Big Ten title and an NCAA Finals berth ? which they narrowly missed last season.
With the top three players from last year?s team returning, those goals appear to be in reach. Sophomore Emily Bastel, junior Kasey Gant and sophomore Stacy Snider finished 1-2-3 on the team in stroke average last year and were 1-2-3 among Spartan finishers at the NCAA East Regional.
Bastel, Gant and Snider all averaged in the 70s last season and all produced top-five finishes at some point during the season. The three combined for 25 appearances in the top 20 last year.
?It?s a great feeling knowing that we have three players the caliber of Kasey, Emily and Stacy,? Slobodnik said. ?They all average under 80 and they are all capable of shooting under par at any time.?
In addition to their collegiate success, Gant (Indiana) and Bastel (Ohio) both won their state amateurs in the summer of 1999. Gant also reached the quarterfinals (top eight) of the U.S. Women's Amateur.
Gant can be credited with the start of Michigan State?s recent rise to Big Ten and national prominence. She arrived at MSU in the fall of 1997 and promptly won her first collegiate tournament.
Gant?s success continued last season, as she captured two individual tournament titles and finished second on the team with a 77.48 stroke average ? just 0.12 behind Bastel and the fourth-best single-season average in school history. She has been named to the All-Big Ten team in each of her first two seasons.
?Kasey is a player who we know we can count on,? Slobodnik said. ?Kasey should feel even more comfortable now with the backup of other elite players around her. We will be looking to her as a leader since she will be our most experienced golfer.?
In Bastel, Michigan State has a poised, proven performer who had a spectacular freshman season. She led Michigan State with a 77.36 stroke average, the second-best single-season average in Spartan history.
Bastel improved as the season moved on, posting three top-six finishes in the last five tournaments, including sixth at the Big Ten Championship. She led MSU in five of the last six tournaments of the year, including the NCAA East Regional, and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and to the All-Big Ten team.
?Emily?s impact on our program was huge,? Slobodnik said. ?She is so dedicated to her golf game and was special to watch all year. We expect better and better things as Emily gains experience.?
Another returning starter for the Spartans who figures to improve after a successful freshman season is Stacy Snider. Snider returns as a sophomore after averaging 79.70 a year ago, third on the team.
Snider produced five top-20 finishes, including fourth place in the Mary Fossum Invitational. She played well down the stretch for MSU, producing two top-20 finishes in the last three tournaments, including a share of 12th place at the Big Ten Championship. Her average improved in each of the final five tournaments.
?There?s no question that Stacy possesses the talent she needs to be successful in the Big Ten and beyond,? Slobodnik said. ?She went through an adjustment year coming to college and we can expect greater improvement this year. I have no doubt she will continue to get better, because she is the most competitive golfer I have ever worked with.?
Michigan State?s returning starters fuel the high hopes for 1999-2000, but with that comes the recognition that Slobodnik has a very young team.
?What?s special about Emily, Kasey and Stacy is that we had such a great year, yet they know there is so much more to achieve,? Slobodnik said. ?At the same time, it is a very young team. Last year we had three seniors in our top six, so we will have to see how our new youth responds.?
There are numerous candidates to replace the departed seniors in the MSU lineup.
Perhaps the leader among those returning is redshirt freshman Shellie Morton, who proved to be a strong competitor in team playoff rounds last season.
?After watching Shellie Morton for a year I think she is going to be able to move into the top six,? Slobodnik said. ?We will look to her to be a supporting star.?
Other players with some experience include senior Tricia Gregory, who earned a letter two years ago, junior Kristy Hartman and sophomores Abbey Beardslee, Kelly Brown and Kari Prochazka.
In addition, a talented freshman class joins the fold for the Spartans. Allison Fouch, Ann Marie Kersten, Erin Roe, Jessica Till and Lauren Youngdahl will all compete for spots among the top six.
Michigan State?s schedule, as always, features a balanced mix of national and regional competition. The Spartans also host the annual Mary Fossum Invitational, where they will defend their team title and Gant will defend her two-time individual crown.
In addition, the Spartans have added top-level competition in the Lady Buckeye Fall Invitational in Columbus, Ohio, and the OSU/SMU Regional Challenge at the Palos Verdes Country Club in Los Angeles. Both feature several teams which qualified for the 1999 NCAA Finals.
?Once we reached the level of play we did last year, it became obvious that we needed to upgrade our schedule,? Slobodnik said. ?It is important for the team and the student-athletes to play against the top players in the country. That will allow us to see just how close we are to the best players and teams in the country.?
Slobodnik and the Spartans expect that Michigan State is right there among the best in the nation as they shoot for a Big Ten championship and berths in the NCAA East Regional and NCAA Finals in 1999-2000.