Coleman Houk enters the 2023 spring golf season with high hopes for his Kansas Wesleyan golf teams and he’s not alone.
The Coyote men and women have drawn early national attention. The men’s team is ranked 20th in the NAIA and the women are among teams receiving votes in their poll.
Both squads are coming off successful fall seasons. Each won their Kansas Conference match-play tournament in October and were second in the Central Plains Invitational at Salina Country Club in October. The women also won the Evangel Invitational their final event of the fall season.
The KWU men begin play February 20-21 in the Las Vegas Shootout while the women start February 27-28 in the Legends Showdown in Myrtle Beach. S.C.
The Coyotes feature a deep and talented lineup led by Jackson Malone (FR/Frisco, Texas). He’s the top-ranked freshman in the country after winning the Central Plains Invitational and placing among the top 10 in three other fall events.
“To be the number one freshman in the country’s no small feat and it seems like he’s catching his stride at the right time as we get started,” said Houk, a former standout player at KWU and in his third season as head coach.
The No. 2 player in the lineup is Trevor Watson (JR/Coffeyville, Kan.), who is continuing the Watson legacy at KWU following his brother Troy’s sensational career.
“He’s pretty much going toe-to-toe with where Troy was in his progression as far as scoring average, ability and that kind of thing,” Houk said. “I’m expecting big things from him when we get started.”
Third in the lineup is veteran Ethan Vikander (JR/Aberdeen, S.D.), who is finally healthy this spring.
“He’s always been right around that two, three bag looking to break through,” Houk said. “He’s been battling some shoulder injuries for the past year and a half but I think he’s finally going to be a full go this semester so excited to see what that means for him.”
Landon Berquist (JR/Lawrence, Kan.) and Tyler Tarvin (SO/North Richland Hills, Texas) round out the lineup for the Las Vegas trip.
“Landon has been a part of the top five for four years now,” Houk said. “Looking to finish his season strong, he’s put in more work this offseason than any other year in the past. Tyler is the other young guy on the top five. A lot of raw talent out there and excited to see what he can do this semester.”
Three others will contend for the four-five spots in the lineup throughout the spring – Adam Vigors, Nolan De Los Santos (FR/Lancaster, Texas) and Matthew Freriks (SR/Stinnett, Texas).
“Matthew has obviously been around for four or five years,” Houk said. “He’s kind of in and out of the top five but he’s had a really good offseason as well so it wouldn’t shock me to see him make an appearance.”
Houk likes where the team is coming out of the winter months.
“Obviously, there’s a little bit of a learning curve when we get hit with winter weather but I feel like more than any other offseason we’ve gotten outside or we’ve gotten some more work in,” he said. “I think our confidence level is high within the conference but it would be nice to make a statement on the national level right out of the gate this spring.”
Houk said Friends will be a team to watch in the KCAC this spring with Sterling and Bethany also in contention.
“They’ve got a really good coach over there and they’ve steered more towards the international route,” Houk said of Friends. “Very talented team, they’re very young. That’s the team that we’re wanting to stay ahead of. Sterling and Bethany are going to be good like always.”
As good as the KWU men are Houk says the women’s team could be special.
“I would argue that they’re hotter than the men’s team coming out,” he said. “They won their last two events of the fall and obviously that’s going to boost a lot of confidence. I know with certainty they’ve put in more work this offseason than any season prior for the past eight years. I’ve been really pleased with what I’ve seen this offseason from them.”
Abby Donovan (SO/Concordia, Kan.) leads the lineup after a strong fall season.
“She came in clutch in the match-play and won that event and finished strong in the last event as well,” Houk said. “She’s made some huge leaps this offseason too, it’s really exciting to see what she does.”
Houk expects a strong spring season from Aiden Richmond, who’s No. 2 for KWU.
“In the past she has been more of the three, four or five bag and now we look for her to be one of our best if not the best on any given day,” he said. “How much she’s improved from last year to this year is amazing, I think it’s about a four or five shots difference. It’s been fun to see her develop.”
Hannah Hart (JR/Ventura, Calif.) is third and finished the fall on a strong note by winning the Evangel event.
“Her confidence is always high but I feel like it’s really high this semester and I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see her rise up to that one bag position a few times,” Houk said.
Corey Mein (SR/Liberal, Kan.) is the No. 4 player and has shown considerable improvement.
“Corey is playing better than she’s ever played as well,” Houk said. “We started practice this spring and she was shooting scores about four or five strokes lower than expected. She’s been really amazing this semester so far.
The fifth golfer is newcomer Chaney Littell (FR/Winfield, Kan.).
“She’s had a fantastic first semester, she averaged just over an 80 but she has the potential to go sub-75 any given day,” Houk said. “And she’s got seven semesters of college golf so that’s exciting.”
Thalia Ramirez (JR/Olathe, Kan.) will also be a factor after showing dramatic improvement.
“Probably the most improved golfer on our men’s or women’s roster,” Houk said. “I think she’s averaging about 10 shots better this year than she did last year, just really dedicated herself to golf this past summer and exciting to see where she’s at.”
Houk said the women’s team is reaping the rewards of its offseason work.
“I truly believe we’ve outworked every other team in the conference for the past three months,” he said. “I think that along with that confidence coming over from the fall is going to be huge for them this spring.”
The women’s race in the KCAC will feature the usual suspects, Houk said.
“I think that’s about six years running now that either us or Bethany have won,” he said. “We got them in the match-play, they got us early on in the fall. That’s why we figured we need to put in the work. We don’t want to make it interesting; we want it to be pretty well known that if someone’s going beat us something crazy has to happen.”