The Men’s and Women’s Golf teams finished up play at the Bradley Invitational on April 5-6. It was the fourth tournament they competed in together this year but the first one of the spring season. The men’s team placed second out of eight teams, while the women’s team tied Evansville, placing seventh out of 10.
This is the first year that the Men’s and Women’s Golf teams have been considered a single program and are one of three such teams in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC). This merger was implemented by Director of Golf Kyle Stefan, who was responsible for combining the men’s and women’s teams at Chicago State University before moving to Loyola.
“These are highly seasoned, highly skilled golfers,” Stefan said. “If we’re able to collaborate … it enhances everything for the 20 kids in our program.”
Stefan does not see any cons from the merging of the men’s and women’s teams, and instead he hopes the golfers form “friendships and relationships that’ll last longer than their four years here.”
Though he said he doesn’t consider it a negative that the teams are combined, Stefan said he notices differences in how men and women play even though they are playing the same sport.
“At the core we’re all playing golf, but [are playing it] differently. Men and women think about it differently,” Stefan said. “You see such a distinct difference, yet they’re so similar.”
For golfers, playing together highlights differences between men and women in a way that promotes growth within their own game.
“It was beneficial on both sides. Guys have a different game,” senior golfer April Ohlendorf said. “They hit it farther and they can spin it more.”
Although the teams do not practice together at the same time, they share practicing facilities. According to Stefan, being the coach for both teams allows him to “integrate philosophies and share goals, visions and aspirations [between] the programs.”
The golfers also enjoy having the men’s and women’s programs come together, and program cohesiveness is a large part of it.
“There is a lot more team unity,” senior Carey Farley said. “We’ve been able to practice with our men’s team and get to know them better. There’s been a lot of team bonding.”
For the coaching staff, the merged teams is a way to make sure that each athlete receives the attention and guidance he or she needs to succeed in golf and school in general.
“As a coaching staff we want to make sure we’re reaching all 20 kids in the program and [are maximizing] their potential. We constantly evaluate what we’re doing as a coaching staff and make progress reaching each kid,” Stefan said. “We have two great assistant coaches and I don’t want to limit them [to one team] but allow everyone to pick their brains as coaches.”
The effort put in by the coaches does not go unnoticed by the golfers. Although it sometimes may be difficult for Stefan to make it to one of the team’s tournaments, his golfers think he does his best to balance his time between the two teams.
“Coach travels with our team and the men’s team, so it’s good and bad because if he travels with the men, then the assistant travels with us,” Ohlendorf said. “There’s a balance between [Stefan’s] attention at tournaments [for both teams].”
For some golfers, though, a coach having to divide his attention is sometimes a drawback for unified teams.
“It can lead to the coaches having to pay attention to one team over the other,” senior Sean Hickey said. “It goes back and forth.”
Despite the coaches’ divided attention, the unity the merger has brought to the team is more valuable to players on both teams.
“When you talk to the men’s team, they get why it didn’t go well,” Farley said. “They can sympathize. It’s nice to be able to talk to them.”
The teams are not only united within the program, but they also exemplify unity to the public.
“When we do go to tournaments [with the women], we look unified,” said Hickey. “[When the women do well] it’s not only a representation of their team, but the program, which we’re a part of. It sort of aligns everyone’s interests.”
Merged teams are becoming more popular across the sport. Freshman women’s golfer Logan Willis played on a co-ed team in high school, but the college version of the system has a few differences.
“It’s very similar to the high school aspect. It’s strange to be separated from [the men in practice], but I still feel we’re united as one large team,” Willis said. “The skill level is enhanced greatly [at Loyola], but it’s not that much different.”
The women resume play in Terre Haute, Ind. at the Indiana State Spring Invitational on April 13 and 14, while the men continue on to the Greenbrier Invitational on April 15 and 16 in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.