Ball State men’s and women’s golf are set to start their 2023-24 seasons after showing potential last season of what we could have in store this year.
The men’s team is looking to capitalize on last year’s second-place finish in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) tournament and win it this year, as the Cardinals landed just four strokes behind eventual champion Northern Illinois University. Ball State had five golfers finish in the top 50 (Kash Bellar, Carter Smith, Griffin Hare, and Joey Rainieri, and Ali Khan), with sophomore Kash Bellar having the top score of the group, and finishing fourth overall with a 1-under-parr.
“Leading up to it [I] wasn’t particularly playing the best, but I knew I had it in me,” Bellar said. “[I] didn’t get off to a great start but I battled my way back to being in contention on the last day…Ultimately we fell a few short, but I am still proud of the way I fought.”
In the postseason, those same five golfers who finished in the top 50 were invited to the Golfweek National Golf Invitational in Arizona, and the Cardinals once again finished fourth overall as Bellar again shined, finishing with a 7-under-par (209) to win the tournament.
“It felt really good,” Bellar said “I just proved to myself that I can compete at this level.”
His fellow Cardinals impressed too, with Ranieri finishing with the second-best score for Ball State with 1-under-par. Hare was switched out for Evan Bone, who had a round three to remember, posting a 2-under-par (70). Khan and Smith both finished at 1-over-par.
In the offseason, the men’s team looked to improve, but most of their core contributors from 2022 returned. Bellar, Khan, Hare, and Smith are all back, with Hare even earning an invitation to the prestigious U.S. Amateur Championship in Colorado.
“I was really disappointed with how I played there,” Hare said. “But being able to soak in the atmosphere and everything about that tournament was really first class.”
Along with the returning players, head coach Mike Fleck was able to pull three golfers from the transfer portal Bellarmine’s senior Jensen Klodike, Nicholls State’s junior Braxton Kuntz, and Flagler College’s senior Trey Wilson. Fleck expects these three to compete and make the Cardinals better.
“I think it’s a really good team,” Fleck said. “We talked about the team in 2013 that [we] went to the NCAA finals with, [and] this team has a lot of similarities. We got a long way to go, [and] these guys have more growth and some maturity to continue to improve, but they definitely have the opportunity to be a really good program.”
The Cardinals believe the same; that this is their year to win the MAC after falling just short last season. Khan, a redshirt junior, said he feels everyone in the program is pushing each other to be better and are excited for the season to come.
On the women’s side, it was a season of firsts for the program last year, as the Cardinals had a new face as head coach in Cameron Andry. Andry had spent 11 years as head coach of Taylor University before accepting the job to be the next leader of the Cardinals, and his first season in the position showed some promising building blocks for the future of the program.
Ball State finished the MAC Tournament with five players placing in the top 50, with Australian native Jasmine Discroll, a freshman, finishing tied for 24th overall with the best score of those at Ball State. Canada native Madelin Boyd, also a freshman, and junior Kiah Parrot both finished tied for 29th, while Canada’s other native freshman Sarah Gallaher finished tied for 36th.
Andry said that last year was a building process for both him and his team in his first season as head coach and that they were an inexperienced group in terms of college golf. “There were some days where we looked pretty good and there were some days where it was pretty ugly, but I’m hopeful the experience that this group gained last year is going to pay dividends this year,” Andry said.
Andry wants to leave the past behind and is looking toward the future, as the youth movement within the Cardinals, anchored by Discroll and Boyd, continues to develop. The light will be bright on the two international players, who went through a transition of adapting to not only a new place but a new style of play last season.
“The biggest thing is how competitive college and university sports are [in the United States],” Boyd said. “In Canada, it is not really a thing, so it’s cool to see how intense and competitive everything is here.”
Many players, like Discroll and Boyd, are excited for the season ahead as they get to play some stiffer competition this year, and although it will be a challenge, both athletes and Andry alike are up for the challenge.
“I’m excited to see what we can do this year in terms of placing and see if we can win a tournament,” Discroll said. “Everyone definitely gained some experience and we have some new people that can bring more.”
Ball State Men’s Golf is set to tee off the 2023 season in Columbia, Missouri, Sept. 4 and Sept. 5 at the Golfweek Invitational, while the women’s Cardinals begin their season in West Lafayette, Indiana at the Boilermaker Classic those same days.