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Men’s golfers find their stroke

BY JESSIE SMITH | APRIL 15, 2010 7:30 AM

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Winning seasons come in cycles. Certain successful cycles may take a little longer to come by than others.

From 2000 to 2007, the Iowa men’s golf team sat in what seemed to be a concrete seat at the bottom of the Big Ten cellar.

The Hawkeyes had gone seven-straight years without once breaking into the top-100 rankings. In Big Ten play, Iowa placed inside the top-eight just once, while instead finishing last twice.

Two years later, the Iowa men’s golf team owns a No. 38 ranking — the highest in program history — and is a contender for the Big Ten crown.

Michigan head coach Andrew Sapp credits Iowa’s surge in the national rankings to Iowa head coach Mark Hankins’ arrival in Iowa City in 2007.

“He probably instilled an attitude in them that’s more of a winning and competitive attitude,” Sapp said. “I have seen Iowa’s teams in the past, and they didn’t have that same edge or that sort of swagger to them, and Mark’s somehow instilled that into those players.”

The native of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, took charge in July 2007, fewer than three months after the Hawkeyes closed Big Ten play in last place for the second-consecutive year.

Hankins was coming off a much more and prestigious run. The 2007 Big Ten men’s golf Coach of the Year led his former Michigan State team to its second Big Ten championship in three years and a 23rd-place finish in the NCAA championships.

The Hawkeyes are closing out their third season under Hankins’ command, and the Black and Gold uniforms prove to be the only recognizable similarity between this year’s squad and the Iowa team of 2007.

Illinois head coach Mike Small, whose team remains the favorite in this year’s Big Ten race, said he views the Hawkeyes as a threat come postseason play.

“I think the Big Ten is a very strong conference,” Small said. “I think Iowa being improved and having a record as it does, it has a possibility to be a very good team come postseason. It’s respected in the Big Ten, and I think it’s going to get some respect on the national level, too.”

The Iowa program got its first taste of national attention after last year’s 17th-place finish at the NCAA championships, and this spring season, Hankins’ squad hasn’t skipped a beat.

The Hawkeyes have posted top-five finishes in every tournament so far and have knocked off some of the nation’s elite programs in head-to-head action.

Sophomore Barrett Kelpin said he thinks the team’s 114-place jump in the rankings has given Iowa a brand-new reputation in the realm of Division-I golf.

“I think we’re obviously more of a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten now than we were last year,” Kelpin said. “When we were 155th, everyone was kind of like, ‘Oh Iowa’s in the field this week,’ and no one really saw us as much of a threat, so I think we’ve gotten a lot more respect from the Big Ten when we’re in the [tournament] field now. People know that we’re going to contend to win.”

At the rate Hankins’ squad is going, it becomes hard to predict what accolades this year’s Iowa squad will attain come May, but it is safe to say the Hawkeyes have climbed out of the seven-year losing rut.

“Iowa has had several outstanding golf teams over the 26 years I have been involved,” Penn State head coach Greg Nye said. “College sports run in cycles, and the last two years, Coach Hankins and his Hawkeyes have found their stride.”

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