SJR Column: Golf and Tennis, April 2016

April on the University of Illinois at Springfield campus brings an exciting countdown to graduation, the students’ much-anticipated Springfest celebration, and the annual opening of Prairie Stars baseball and softball seasons. Though perhaps a little less visible, April also means members of the golf and tennis teams are hard at it – competing in the 16-member Great Lakes Valley Conference.

Frank Marsaglia, longtime coach of the men’s and women’s golf teams, has a plan and that plan is paying off. “My goal has been to recruit top student-athletes who are talented both in the classroom and on the golf course,” says Frank.

“We’ve developed a culture for our program where team members support each other and have each other’s backs both on and off the course. We show up at major tournaments and we expect to win.”

As Talon Supak, a junior Accounting major from Washington, Illinois, can attest – the UIS golf teams do win – often. Talon started playing golf at age five and was a multi-sport athlete in high school. He came to UIS for both the CAP Scholars Honors Program and to play golf. Talon currently plays #1 and is ranked fourth in the Division II Northeast region of 50 teams. The UIS men’s team is ranked 13th.

Becca Ramirez is the top player on the Women’s team – which is currently ranked 11th in the Northeast region. An alum of Springfield High School, Becca is a Psychology major who graduates this May. “It’s been gratifying to be part of a program that is not only a threat, but that has beaten top teams,” says Becca. “It’s also an amazing experience to travel to so many different parts of the country – even Puerto Rico – and compete on all different kinds of courses.” Becca will be the Assistant Golf Pro at the Illini Country Club after she completes her senior season.

As the golf teams faculty partner, Professor Marcel Yoder volunteers to help enhance the student-athlete experience.

“Coach Marsaglia does an excellent job enabling student-athletes to reach their full potential on and off the course at the same time he provides experiences that give them lifelong memories, he says.

“He also has two of the most diverse rosters in the athletic department with students from Illinois playing side by side with students from Colombia, China, Canada and Ecuador. Our whole campus benefits by learning from and alongside individuals with a variety of backgrounds and life experiences.”

Second-year men’s and women’s tennis coach Tom Rees is a native of England whose own collegiate career in tennis was played at the University of North Carolina Asheville. “We’re building on the foundation of a strong program and we’ve made some great strides,” says Tom.

“The new courts on campus really help us with practice schedules and make our program more visible, and we have some great community members who come to watch us compete and support our program.”

A historic highlight for the UIS tennis program came at the end of last season when Jane Carter, from Auckland, New Zealand, was named the GLVC Freshman of the Year – the greatest individual Division II conference accomplishment to date for any UIS student-athlete. Jane’s achievement set the stage for continued success this year for the women’s tennis team.

Cole Buehnerkemper, a junior majoring in Business and Economics, has been playing tennis since his mother (who played at Eastern Illinois) put a racket in his hand. Team captain and playing the #1 position, Cole is poised during this spring season to set a new UIS Division II record for most singles matches won. “My freshman year we were average at best; but we have improved and we can win,” says Cole. “We’re really building a great program.”

Kanwal Alvarez, Assistant Professor of Biology, is the faculty partner for tennis. “I think Tom is a great coach,” she says,

“He not only strives to improve each player’s game individually, but he also prioritizes team unity and emphasizes dedication on and off the courts. I hope we will continue to get community support and keep seeing an increase in attendance at future competitions.”

Speaking of competitions, local fans will have a great opportunity to see a high level of collegiate play when UIS hosts the GLVC Men’s Golf Championship (April 16-18) and the Division II Women’s Golf Super-regional Tournament (May  2-4) – both on our home course at Springfield’s Panther Creek Country Club.

Go Stars!

Chancellor Susan J. Koch