When EMU's golf teams tee off for the first time on Monday, the changeover to the new season will be noticeable.
Gone is Josh Alderfer, the final golfer left from the program's debut season of 2012-13. A combined four men and women return from last year for the Royals, but only three will actually be playing each semester, as two men will be off campus at points this academic year for a cross cultural study.
A similar phenomenon occurred last spring, when then-junior Andrew Alderfer (Faber, Va./Nelson County) missed the spring semester on his cross cultural.
Coach Mike Yoder, entering his second season at Eastern Mennonite University, said the team is learning to compete despite the challenges.
"We were shorthanded during last year's spring season with Andrew being on his cross cultural but we were still able to post team results in all our tournaments," Yoder said. "Being down a man was a definite disadvantage but we showed a lot of heart regardless."
The highlight of 2016-17 came early in the season, when the men set the program's par-72 scoring record with a 318 team score on day one of the Tom Kinder Memorial. They added a 319 the next day.
Lucas Miller (San Antonio, Tex./Brandeis) had a two-day total of 148 (+4), finishing tied for 14th at the tournament. A 73 on the second day also proved to be EMU's low round of the year. Josh Alderfer added a highlight with a 155 (+11) to finish tied for 16th at a large field at the Lynchburg Invitational in the spring.
As a team, however, the momentum petered out as Andrew Alderfer, the Royals' No. 2 golfer, missed the spring semester.
The younger Alderfer returns for his senior season, and will take over the No. 1 spot with his average round score of 80.2 last fall. He elevates to the spot vacated by his graduated brother, who averaged 78.9.
Yoder said his presence would be missed.
"Josh's influence on the program was very important to get the program started," explained Yoder. "His solid play provided benchmarks for teammates and we will miss both him and fellow senior Travis Dull as we move forward."
Miller (83.9) and Austin Sachs (Dillsburg, Pa./Northern York) (90.0) add experience as juniors on the team, although Sachs will miss the fall semester and Miller the spring on their respective cross culturals.
The returners will not only lead in scoring, but also in the clubhouse.
"It's always good to have experience but we also want to develop our newer players," said Yoder. "We will look to our returners to mentor and provide leadership."
New to the men's team is junior Riley Kingsley (North Newton, Kan./Newton), a Hesston transfer, along with sophomore Chris Fenn (Glen Allen, Va./Glen Allen) and freshman Benjamin Shenk (Elkton, Va./Page County). Fenn played on EMU's baseball team last year.
Yoder said the next two months should provide a nice springboard for the Royals into the 2018 portion of the schedule, including the ODAC Tournament on April 22-24.
"We need to use the fall season to allow our new golfers to acclimate at this level," he said. "I think this squad can begin to establish the program toward more consistent results and begin to compete at a higher level than what we have seen in the past."
On the women's side, sophomore Olyvia Longacre (Telford, Pa./Dock Mennonite Academy) is set to build on her solid first year. She had a good spring, carding her low round of 83 on April 9 when she finished tied for seventh on day one of the Hollins Invitational. Longacre finished with an average round score of 91.5.
"Olyvia made great strides with experience and confidence throughout the year," Yoder said of his lone women's golfer. "We look for her to continue improvement throughout the fall."
EMU's coach explained that the women's program is wide open for an exciting point of focus – growth, both this season and beyond.
"We are looking for continued improvement from week to week," said Yoder. "There are lots of opportunities to improve. And with so many programs starting at the D-III level, we must continue to work at building the roster to allow the program to develop and compete in the ODAC."
Yoder hopes the changeover to the new year will be just as noticeable within the program as whole as it is with the players on the course.
"We have been trying harder to build a recruiting base and making connections that were not used in the past," he said. "We also continue to work at creating a more solid work ethic and higher expectations, both individually and as a team."
The men open their season Monday at the Tom Kinder Memorial at Lakeview Golf Course in Harrisonburg. With rain from Hurricane Irma expected on Tuesday, the two-day tournament was changed to a one-day, 36-hole event.
The women open next weekend at the Shenandoah Invitational at the Shenandoah Valley Golf Club in Front Royal.