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A saved season: DSU golfers bring confidence into 2018 campaign after school cuts program funding

Dickinson State sophomore golfer Carter Klein tied for first and shot a 146 at the DSU Invitational at Heart River Golf Course during the 2017 fall season. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)

This time last year, it wasn't clear if there would be a 2018 Dickinson State golf season.

After the school announced it was cutting funding for the golf and baseball teams, the coach and team members took it upon themselves to save their program.

"We had to raise $30,000," head coach Thadd O'Donnell said. "Our players went out and found sponsors that would sponsor for a three-year cycle. ... So that helped a lot."

Twelve sponsors pledged $1,000 for three years and the booster club helped raise money and a handful of golf tournaments served as fundraisers as well, locking in the 2018 season and half the funds for 2019.

With fundraising out of the way for now, the team has been preparing for the fall opener on Aug. 28 at the Jamestown Country Club.

The women's team returned every golfer from last year and seniors Aimee Kittilson and Riley Helmick will lead the otherwise young squad.

"In our qualifying rounds, Riley shot a 79. I don't know if we've had anybody in the 70's in our team," O'Donnell said. "Everybody else in our top five was in the 80's. That's a good sign."

Last spring, the Lady Blue Hawks finished sixth of seven teams in the North Star Athletic Association, led by Helmick who finished 12th with 354 strokes over four rounds, 31 behind the winner. Kittilson swung for 364, good for 14th.

Behind the upperclassmen will likely be sophomore Breilyn Riggin who gradually improved her scores last year, ending in 16th place at the spring conference meet with 370 strokes. After her are sophomores Jace Steier and Natalee Hafer, who O'Donnell believes will benefit from having a year of college golf experience.

"Confidence is a big thing in golf. Especially on the women's side, all the women in our top five have been through a season, so now they feel very comfortable with where they're at," O'Donnell said. "Now they're just trying to up their game."

The men's team doesn't have the same depth as the women, with just four members.

With lack of scholarship money playing a factor in recruiting, the team picked up two freshmen in Dickinson native Hunter Myran and Jeremiah Paine of Wolf Point, Mont. Meanwhile, they graduated two seniors in Parker Robinson and Zach Miller.

The freshmen join sophomore and expected top scorer Carter Klein and junior Jaret Lee.

"I think the four guys we have are capable of shooting really good scores, but there's no room for errors," O'Donnell said. "If one guy has a bad day, that's definitely going to cause some problems on the team. Carter Klein is probably our most steady guy."

As a freshman, Klein finished 23rd in the conference with a four-round score of 320, 28 strokes behind the winner.

Klein said he wants to make it to nationals this year and while working at Hawktree Golf Club in his hometown of Bismarck, he spent a lot of time on the greens this summer.

"I tried to improve my short game quite a bit and my shots off the tee," Klein said. "I noticed that's where I kind of struggled last year. I could have probably put some really good rounds together had I kept some of that stuff together. ... Hopefully it pays off this season."

Lee, who balances time between football and golf, swung for 71 at a team qualifier at Bully Pulpit in Medora last week, showing improvement of at least 10 strokes over all his spring conference rounds.

The men finished last in the NSAA last spring with a team score of 1355, while Jamestown University picked up the win, combining for 1189 strokes. O'Donnell thinks both the men and women will move up the list, finishing in the middle of the pack.

"We're moving in the right direction definitely. I think we'll be in the top half of the conference," he said. "Being able to knock off those top two teams,I don't think that's realistic unless everyone really picks up their game.