New is the theme for Park University's men's and women's golf programs in 2017-18, but new begins Monday in a familiar place for the Pirates.
For the Park women, it's almost business as usual, opening the season at Eagle Bend Golf Course, but the opener comes with a new head coach and a counterpart in Canary and Wine on the men's side of the tournament.
"I think the guys are excited about getting out and playing in an event," Blake said. "It's been a learning curve for our girls to adjust to a new coach, new practice plans and this is be a tournament that will be more of a learning experience for all of us on how do we better prepare for the remainder of the season."
The Park women will take four veterans in to Monday's first round in Lawrence, led by Genevieve Stelmacovich, who earned the No. 1 position through qualifying after playing much of the 2016-17 season in the No. 4 spot. Eagle Bend was the site of Stelmacovich's best collegiate round, a 74 where she was under par for a good chunk of the 18-hole stretch.
She won the No. 1 position over Leeah Shipley in qualifying, after Shipley edged Stelmacovich in scoring average a season ago. Shipley will play the No. 2 position, while a freshman, Lexi Grego, a graduate of Park Hill High School, will play the No. 3 position Monday.
The Pirates will be without their top scorer from a year ago, Academic All-American Makenzie Shivers, who graduated in May, as well as their second-leading scorer, senior all-conference performer Rachel Hoffman, who will sit out the first event at Eagle Bend.
"We have a good group of core players returning this year, and losing our No. 1 player from last year will open the door for a couple of girls to step up and grab that position," Blake said. "We have three girls right now that have the ability to emerge as our No. 1, they are shooting close to the same scores. It will be interesting to see who if anyone starts to separate themselves from the pack."
Park's men will put a pair of seasoned collegiate veterans at the front of the lineup, including one, Zach Spencer, who is familiar with Eagle Bend after playing the course at both Baker University and Kansas City Kansas Community College in his collegiate career. He'll be backed by No. 2 player Wes Buntenbach, while a pair of freshmen – German Yannick Koehnen and England's Ryan Tattan – will play the No. 3 and No. 4.
The Pirates' fifth bag at Ottawa will be occupied by another junior, Dakota Soukup, who came to Park after two years in western Kansas, at Barton Community College.
"We are a team with a lot of freshman sprinkled in with some experienced players, on the men's side," Blake said. "You will see our lineup continue to change throughout the season as everyone on the team is capable of playing in our top five. Like the women I wouldn't say there is a clear cut No. 1 player, which I believe can be a good thing. I'm looking for our men to continue to push each other and to battle for the top spot on the team."
Monday's first round at Ottawa is also Blake's first as a head coach, after spending five seasons as the lead assistant for the men's golf program at Wichita State University. He'll be joined Monday by second-year assistant coach Becky Crosby, who was with the women's program last year after a long tenure as a high school golf coach in the Kansas City area.
"I'm looking for the team to compete and to learn," Blake said. "This tournament will be more about gaining experience and understanding what is needed to get better and better. I'm looking forward myself to seeing every player in action and to make notes on what we need to do to continue to improve."
For the Park women, Monday and Tuesday represent a chance to defend their fall championship from 2016, in Lawrence, while the men will compete for the first time since the early 1980s. Complete results will post to www.parkathletics.com Monday and Tuesday afternoons, with updates throughout the day on Twitter, at www.twitter.com/ParkPirates.