By Mark Janssen
Gianna Misenhelter made a promise to Kansas State golf coach Kristi Knight when she signed as a three-time Class 5A Kansas prep champion out of Kansas City's St. Thomas Aquinas High School.
"Gianna (pronounced john-a) came in and told me that she planned to be K-State's No. 1 player," said Knight.
"The good thing with Gianna is that she is going to work hard and she knows that she's got a lot of up-side. She's far from peaked," said Knight. "It's exciting to have a freshman leading the team."
And, It's exciting that sophomore Whitney Pyle ranks second with a stroke average of 76.27, followed by juniors Ami Storey (76.63) and Paige Osterloo (77.45) to round out the top four.
"These ladies are young, but they have talent," Knight said. "We don't want to be settling for scores of 302 and 304. They've proven they can shoot in the high 280's on a given day, so what we would like to see is consistent team scores in the 290's, and then on occasion dip down into the 280's."
In four tournaments, Osterloo led the team at the Chip-N-Club, Pyle was low shooter at the Marilynn Smith, while Misenhelter has been No. 1 in the last two events - the Johnnie Imes and Dale McNamara.
In those four tourneys, K-State's team finished second, third, seventh and 10th, respectively.
"We have a nice balance like we had last year, but the good thing now is that we have four averages between 75 and 77 where last year the scores were in the high-70s," said Knight.
As a team, K-State is ranked No. 54 by GolfStat, which is well ahead of last year's fall ranking of No. 93.
"The thing that is exciting is that we haven't hit our stride yet," said Knight, who is in her 16th season with the K-State program. "We've had those 302's and 304's, but we know those scores could have been better. We haven't had four players really click on the same tournament day."
"We've had two or three ladies play well, but never the fourth," the Wildcat coach said. "But they are really motivated and have a tremendous attitude to play better as a team. I can sense an energy, a toughness and a feistiness."
Knight says the national ranking gives K-State a solid base to enter the heart of the season next spring in what she calls our "championship season."
"You have to play good solid golf in the fall to give you a chance for a postseason at-large berth," said Knight. "The way our postseason is determined, the deeper you go into the season the harder it is to improve your ranking. You just can't go out in the fall and lay an egg. It's impossible to recover unless you win the conference tournament."
Plus, she says, "Golf is such a game of confidence. It's nice to do well in the fall, which gives you a higher base to start your spring season with. We've never had a postseason team that played poorly in the fall."
By Big 12 standards, Knight lists Oklahoma and Colorado as Top 15 teams, and Texas and Oklahoma State as Top 25 teams.
"We think it will be very competitive in the middle of the pack," said Knight. "So far this fall we've gone 1-1-1 with Kansas and have a win over Baylor, so we'd like to be the best of those middle of the pack teams."
Rounding out the K-State team this fall have been sophomore Hanna Roos (79.27), senior Emily Houtz (80.81) and sophomore Kristen Dorsey (85.00).
This coming weekend the Wildcats will conclude their fall season in San Antonio.
K-STATE'S FALL ROSTER
Gianna Misenhelter, Fr., Overland Park, Kan.
Whitney Pyle, Soph., Blue Mound, Kan.
Ami Storey, Jr., Woodlands Park, UK
Paige Osterloo, Jr., Rapid City, S.D.
Hanna Roos, Soph., Uppsala, Sweden
Emily Houtz, Sr., Manhattan, Kan.
Kristen Dorsey, Soph., Gulf Breeze, Fla.
Elise Houtz, Sr., Manhattan, Kan.
Laura Hildenbrandt, Soph., Ancaster, Ontario