by Sean Begin
Coming into the 2014-15 season, Central Connecticut women’s golf head coach Carly Ludwig will be fielding her smallest roster in her four years in New Britain.
“I actually really like it right now,” Ludwig said of the smaller roster before acknowledging that “it’s a very risky kind of move, just because I take five girls to every tournament.”
Ludwig loses three seniors and a junior from last year’s team that finished seventh in the Northeast Conference tournament.
Three players from that squad return from the same squad in addition to two incoming freshmen, giving Ludwig the minimum number of players she usually brings to each tournament.
“If anyone’s sick or injured, or if anything happens, obviously that puts me in a very interesting position,” Ludwig said.
“Between myself and Coach Mara, who does our strength and conditioning, and the athletic training room and everybody involved, we’re all making sure that we’re watching out for everybody.”
As long as the players remain healthy and able to hit the course, Ludwig sees her small roster as advantageous. It means no surprises for her team, as each player knows she’ll be playing every tournament they enter.
“I think, for the freshmen, it’s probably taken a lot of pressure off them, as well,” said Ludwig. “And so far, from the girls feedback, they really like having just the five.”
New to the team this year are freshmen Cecy Gutierrez from Torreon, Mexico and Tara Whelan from Kilkeel, Northern Ireland. Ludwig is already seeing good things from both players through early season workouts and their first tournament of the season.
“I was a little bit timid [about Cecy] going into the first tournament at Towson,” said Ludwig. “What I had seen while she was here playing… it was very interesting. I don’t even know how to put it. And then she got into a tournament and was a completely different player. It was someone who just had a lot of grit, had a lot of heart.”
According to Ludwig, at one point during the tournament, Gutierrez hit a shot that fell short of the green.
“She turned back to me and ‘Coach, don’t worry, I got this,’ and just walked off. And you know, all right, I believe her. If she believes it, I believe it and good things are going to happen. And it showed. Round two she shot a 79 and could have actually done a lot better, too, which is a good thing for her.”
Ludwig’s other recruit, Tara Whelan, has also settled in nicely to the team.
“Tara’s been fantastic,” said Ludwig. “I’m really impressed with her and where she’s at. She’s going to be a really, really good, solid player to watch week in and week out.”
Added Ludwig: “This past tournament I just had a blast watching her play. I kind of stood in the background a little bit more than I normally do and watched her figure some things out. But she’s very eager to get in there and contribute and make her own path.”
Whelan has had an easier time transitioning from life in Northern Ireland to life in New England, thanks to fellow countrywoman and team captain, Sarah Boden.
“I knew they knew of each other, I knew they played against each other a little bit,” said Ludwig. “I’m sure there was a little bit of a connection there. Or just more of a reassurance. Because it’s tough coming to another country and trusting that everything is going to go well.”
Boden was named again named team captain as she enters her junior year, having learned a lot as a sophomore captain on a team filled with upperclassmen.
“[It] probably was a little too much for her but I think that’ll help in her junior and senior years. And I knew that,” said Ludwig. “I’d rather get that done and over with early in her career and have her really come into her own in her last two years, which I think she’s going to do.”
As the oldest and most experienced player on the team, Boden now shows the kind of leadership Ludwig saw in her when she named her captain last year; the kind of leadership that has the other girls on the team listening and following along.
“Sarah has always been that leader,” said Ludwig. “It doesn’t matter what she shoots on a golf course, people are going to listen to her and people are going to make sure that they’re following what her lead is.”
Ludwig also has sophomore’s Ella Williams and Kaitlyn Stoddart returning for her, both of whom have shown improvement over their freshmen season.
“She [Stoddart] just hits the ball so far. She’s probably in the top ten percent in college golf for driving distance,” said Ludwig. “For her, as soon as she can get a couple things sorted out in her short game, she’s going to be unstoppable.”
Stoddart led the team in their first tournament at Towson this season shooting a 78 in the first round and improving to a 76 on day two. Williams, who placed 15th out of 140-plus players at the Canadian Junior Championships over the summer, is coming into her own as well.
“Ella is just a really fun player to watch. She’s a learner,” said Ludwig. “I think she’s going to win a tournament this year.”
Central improved over their performance at Towson last year, shooting a better score and finish one place higher in a field featuring one more team than in 2013. And while several players broke into the 70s at Towson, Ludwig knows they can get better.
“This entire team from start to finish can shoot 70s. And that’s what I’m really excited about. Because if you take five players in the 70s, you’re a top 100 team.”
And while Ludwig’s team may be young, they are being noticed by the competition, including three-time defending NEC champion LIU-Brooklyn.
“I kept having the LIU coach looking at me saying ‘Good job, Coach,’” said Ludwig. “And for me as a coach, there’s no better complement than having other coaches come up to you and take notice.”
“The team that I have right now is a solid five and I wouldn’t trade them for anyone,” she said. “I can’t say enough about this team and their future and where they’re going. These five girls will sustain this program for years to come.”