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Friday, April 12, 2024
The Observer

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First-year head coaches lead Holy Cross golf into historic spring season

Saints men's and women's teams begin play this weekend at Purgatory Intercollegiate

A new chapter in the story of Holy Cross College golf officially begins Friday. The Saints’ men’s and women’s teams will tee off at the Purgatory Intercollegiate in Noblesville, Ind., under unique circumstances. For the first time in school history, both squads will have their own dedicated head coaches. 

Last year, the two groups shared head coach T.J. Mannen. But Mannen unexpectedly resigned during the fall season, leaving assistant Aaron Martinez to take over as interim head coach.

Now, as Holy Cross seeks to promote stability and success between its two golf teams, athletic director Tom Robbins appointed a first-year leader for each.

Matthew Marvin, an Elkhart native, inherits a men’s team that finished second in last spring’s CCAC Championship. On the women’s side, program alumna Abby Clark assumes head coaching duties.

Both teams will compete in three events prior to the CCAC Conference Tournament, which runs from April 22-23 for the women and April 29-30 for the men. The schedule starts with the Purgatory Intercollegiate this Friday and Saturday, continuing with the Conference Clash Cup on April 6-7 before the Battle at Blackthorn arrives less than a week later.

Men’s golf leaning on junior captains in first spring under Marvin

Matthew Marvin brings no shortage of Indiana roots to his inaugural season with Holy Cross. The South Bend resident spent the last 10 years at the La Lumiere School in La Porte, where he had served as the head girls’ basketball coach and director of student activities since 2021. Before that, he led the boys’ and girls’ golf teams while operating as the director of athletics and a student life associate.

With a memorable run at La Lumiere behind him, Marvin embraces his transition to Holy Cross. 

“[Those were] some of the best 10 years of my life, but the opportunity to move into a college coaching role where I can truly just focus on coaching golf and my 10 guys that are on my team was really intriguing and exciting,” Marvin said. “The ability to build a program at Holy Cross and be back in South Bend – it was a no-brainer opportunity for me.”

Marvin’s program-building begins with the foundation of his two junior captains, Mikey Chase and Dillan Mori. Both of them averaged under 85 strokes per round last season and are expected to step up after the departures of first-team All-CCAC selections Carter Silva and Matthew Politte.

“I have pretty high expectations for the two of them to be our ‘steady Eddies’ – if you will – that can set the tone and pace for the younger guys,” Marvin said. “But then we’ve got three other guys in Tommy Curtis, Jack Urbanski and Cameron Rascher that have the ability to go low, but we’ve gotta get them a little bit more consistent with their game.”

Curtis, Urbanski and Rascher – three of the Saints’ four freshmen – could get involved right away for a Holy Cross men’s team that carries no seniors. Marvin said that he cherishes the opportunity to build a support network among his players, imbuing confidence in a young roster.

“I’m really excited about being able to work one-on-one with the guys. One of the things that I would say is a strength of mine as a coach is the ability to build others up and make them believe in themselves,” Marvin said. “I’m gonna bring that kind of culture to the golf program where we’re working hard every single day, we’re gonna get better every single day, we’re gonna build each other up, celebrate each other’s success and be able to win a lot of tournaments here at Holy Cross.”

As Marvin ponders what a satisfying first season might look like for his Saints, he eyes both in-conference and national prominence. Last year, the Holy Cross men produced a runner-up result in CCACs and sent Politte to the NAIA National Men’s Golf Championships.

“I hope that at the end of the year when we look back, we made a good push and a good run at winning [the] conference, and we hopefully at least have one guy that makes it down to nationals down in Georgia at the end of May,” Marvin said. “So that would be our goal – that we are top one, two or three in our conference with a chance to get down to nationals. I think [that] would be a really successful season for us.”

Women’s golf ‘itching’ to begin play under Holy Cross alumna

Before putting a single tee in the ground, the Holy Cross women’s team has already made history. Its new leader, Abby Clark, is the first coach for only the women‘s golf team in the existence of Saints athletics. The College also designated her as the assistant director of stewardship, a position that focuses on donor and alumni engagement.

Both positions fit Clark well, as she is a 2019 graduate of Holy Cross and a former member of its women’s golf team.

“One of the best experiences I had all throughout college was collegiate athletics – playing golf,” Clark said. “I created such good bonds with my teammates during that time, I really grew as a person – not only as a golfer but in every aspect of who I was. It was super formative for me during my time here ... To be able to come in and reshape the program into something fun and something that’s gonna help them all learn, grow and be better versions of themselves like it did for me is really rewarding.”

As a swinging Saint, Clark received all-CCAC recognition as a senior, compiling seven top-20 and two top-10 finishes in the year. A busy five years since her graduation took her overseas to Europe, where she served as an au pair and taught English before returning as an account manager in Chicago, Ill.

Clark said her playing days are still at the forefront of her memory.

“Five years flew by, so it doesn’t feel like I was here that long ago when I was in their shoes on tournament days,” Clark said. “Lately, in practice, we’ve been talking about playing smart golf, so I think I can relate to them on that level. I remember how it [was] like [in] those tournaments, we’re out there for five or six hours. It is not a quick round of golf. You’ve gotta stay mentally focused the entire time, and I’m trying to help them get the best strategies in order to do so.”

In past years, Holy Cross golf coaches weren’t always available to help their student-athletes maintain that focus in action. According to Clark, designating a coach for both the men’s and women’s teams will make a major difference.

“We had five golfers on each team out there on the course during a tournament for a total of 10 golfers. One head coach out there trying to get around and give attention to 10 different players was just not super realistic,” Clark said. “The most you might see your coach is once or twice during a round to toss you a water bottle out of the cart, say ‘good job’ and go try to focus on somebody who’s struggling.”

“I only have four players right now – and I’m hoping to get up to six or seven – but that’s a super manageable number for me to focus on them, to have the time to walk with them for a couple of holes, help them set up, help them read putts or just to give them confidence.”

Able to focus solely on her four players, Clark recently orchestrated a team spring break trip to Arizona. There, the Saints gained extra opportunities to play in warm weather and impressed their head coach out on the course. 

“I told them obviously to take it seriously, but it’s still a spring break trip,” Clark said. “But they played so well out in Arizona, and I can just see that fire in them – like, ‘Oh, yeah. We’re ready for spring season.’”

Perhaps most ready are Annika Johnson and Sierra Benge. Johnson, a two-time all-conference selection and top-10 CCAC Championship finisher, registers as the oldest player by class at Holy Cross. Clark referred to the senior as an invaluable asset for the growth of the Saints’ culture.

Meanwhile, Clark offered high praise for Benge and her swing. The junior produced a team-best sixth-place finish at last year’s CCAC Championship and, like Johnson, offers more than just a quality golf game.

“Both Sierra [Benge] and Annika [Johnson] are just exemplary students overall – they’re both RAs, they have outstanding GPAs, they’re involved in different clubs on campus and they’re great golfers,” Clark said. “They’re really the full package. That just shows that they are really committed to everything that they do around campus, and that also translates to the golf course.”

The dynamic pair joins two freshmen, Eva De La Rosa and Savannah Payne-Galle, to complete the 2024 roster. 

“I want them to enjoy these trips, and if we can make improvements – even if it’s the slightest improvement in score – each tournament, that’s all I’m looking for,” Clark said. “I’m not gonna look for exact scores, I’m not gonna hound them for much other than making small improvements. We only have four tournaments this season and quite a bit of time between each tournament, so we can take that time to make those improvements and just enjoy the golf course.”