Western Carolina men's and women's golf teams open their 2012-13 seasons in unique fashion with the 2012 Golfweek Challenge. The two teams will compete independently of each other in Myrtle Beach, S.C. - the women at the Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and the men at the True Blue Golf Club - but will score collectively as a combined program for the overall champion.
Both squads will compete for a tournament championship in their independent 54-hole events. The men's and women's final score will be combined to crown an overall event champion. The Golfweek Program Challenge is in its second year and is coming off a unique - and unprecedented - finish a season ago as East Carolina and Campbell tied for the overall crown, but decided the inaugural champion - Campbell - on an alternating shot, men's and women's pairing sudden-death playoff.
The practice round is scheduled for Saturday, Sept., 8 with the 54-hole tournament teeing off on Sept. 9 through Sept. 11.
"The Golfweek Program Challenge is a great way to start our season," said women's head coach Mallory Hetzel. "The women's field is very strong and the Caledonia Golf Club will be a tough test. We have had a number of good practices leading up to our opening event and I am excited to see how our team will stack up."
"We are all excited to get the fall season underway," added men's head coach, Carter Cheves. "Playing in The Golfweek Program Challenge is great exposure for both our men's and women's teams."
Twelve teams including Western Carolina will vie for the second-annual championship. Joining the Catamounts are Boston College, Campbell, Jacksonville State, Northern Iowa, UMKC, Georgetown, Stetson, Troy, James Madison, Central Arkansas and Austin Peay.
Under the leadership of third-year head coach Carter Cheves, the Catamounts return a mixed side with three seniors - Steven Smith, Kyle Wilson and Trey White. Cheves and the Catamounts return seven of the eight golfers from a season ago including scoring average leader, sophomore J.T. Poston who was named to the SoCon All-Freshman team a year ago. Poston debuted on WCU's career scoring charts at 73.55, pacing the team in eight of the 10 events including all five in the spring portion of last year's schedule.
Combined, WCU returns three golfers that saw action in all 10 events in 2011-12 with seven of those playing in 11-or-more rounds.
Juniors Jack Walsh and Greg Bunner averaged 76.14 and 76.28 strokes per round respectively a season ago. Walsh paced the team in finishing order in two events, both coming last fall. Sophomore Matthew Turner saw action in four events including once as an individual for a combined 11 rounds.
In addition to welcoming newcomer Tyler Lail, the Catamounts will also return the services of Wilson who returns to WCU after just over a year away, and Collin Witiak who took a medical redshirt due to an injury aggravated in the final round of the season-opening tournament a year ago. Wilson ranks eighth in school history with a stroke average of 75.32 through 50 career rounds, while Witiak ranked third on the team in scoring as a freshman in 2010-11 (77.32).
Transfer Alex Simmons joined the Catamount men's golf team prior to the 2012-13 season. The transfer from UNCG is not eligible to compete for WCU this fall due to NCAA transfer regulations.
"This year's team has depth and the competition in practice has been good. We are looking to build upon the improvements from a year ago," said Cheves.
Cheves set his lineup for the opening Golfweek Program Challenge Poston, Wilson, Lail, Bunner and Smith will represent WCU's men.
Whereas the men's team at WCU has a few upperclassmen to lean upon, the women's side is very young entering 2012-13. Three freshmen, two sophomores and just one senior comprise third-year head coach Mallory Hetzel's roster.
The Catamounts have to replace two of the top three scorers from last year's line-up. Sophomore Sofie Kvarnstrom paced the squad with a 76.11 stroke average a season ago, placing among the individual top 10 three times including a pair of individual championships. The Orebro, Sweden, native is joined by classmate countryman, Maria Kjelldorff of Saltsjobaden, Sweden, who led the team once at the Eagle Landing Invitational in March of 2011 and finished fourth on the squad with a 78.50 stroke average.
Kvarnstrom is coming off a season where she was named to the Southern Conference's All-Freshman team.
The two Swedish second-year golfers are joined by one other returning player in senior Michelle Bello, who transferred in prior to last season. A native of Dixon, Calif., Bello finished a WCU career-best tied for 29th at the Mimosa Hills Intercollegiate and averaged 80.95 through eight events and 22 rounds in her first season in Cullowhee.
Hetzel and the Catamounts welcome three first-year golfers including a pair of in-state signees. Taylor Allison of Elizabeth City and Mariah Hopkins of Greensboro are joined by Fatima Gonzales-Carriles, a freshman from Madrid, Spain, on this year's roster.
"We have a very young team this year and we see that as an advantage. The team is excited about the opportunity to represent Western Carolina this year, beginning at this national event with the Golfweek Program Challenge."
Hetzel's opening-weekend lineup includes Bello, Hopkins, Kvarnstrom, Kjelldorff, and Allison.
Following competition at the season-opening Golfweek Program Challenge, WCU's women will host the 14th annual Great Smokies Intercollegiate at the Waynesville Inn, Golf Resort & Spa on Sept. 16-18, while the men's team will host its annual home event, the Hummingbird Intercollegiate, at the Country Club of Sapphire Valley on Nov. 2-4.