How freshmen Elizabeth Duncan, Emersen Motl are taking Ames girls golf to another level

Joe Randleman
Ames Tribune

Last season, Ames couldn't quite get over the hump in girls golf.

The Little Cyclones won the CIML Iowa and defeated 71.6% of the teams they faced in 2021. But they were denied a trip to state as a team after placing fourth at the Class 4A regional meet in Marshalltown.

Ames plans to earn a spot in the biggest meet of the year in 2022. A big reason why has been the outstanding play of freshmen Elizabeth Duncan and Emersen Motl.

“It definitely brings a new energy,” Ames senior Ellie Nusbaum said. “It’s been so fun getting to know them and play with them. Their work ethic pushes everyone to go out on days when no one really wants to and it’s just been really fun getting to play with them.” 

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Ames freshmen Emersen Motl (left) and Elizabeth Duncan have grown up playing golf together at the Veenker Memorial Golf Course in Ames since they were little. They're hoping to help the Little Cyclone girls golf team reach the Class 4A state meet this spring.

Duncan and Motl have been playing golf at Veenker Memorial Golf Course in Ames since they were in grade school. With the help of Greg Dingel, a golf course manager and the head PGA Golf professional at Veenker, they had already developed into outstanding players before entering high school.

“I could tell they’re a lot better than me,” Ames sophomore Danielle Randick said. “They probably know a little bit more than me because I started a couple years ago and they’ve been golfing since they were 8 or 9.”

Even with all of that experience, the two freshmen were nervous entering their first season of high school competition.

“In the beginning, we did a team meeting and they seemed kind of shy,” Ames sophomore Leah Becker said. “I was willing to be super friendly with them and show them how a team works and how we bond together.” 

The freshmen instantly took to their new teammates.

“I didn’t know a lot of them before we came for the first practice, but now I think we’re going to be really close friends," Motl said. "I love having them there.”

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Ames girls golfers (from left) Bryce Bearson, Elizabeth Duncan, Emersen Motl, Ellie Nusbaum, Leah Becker and Danille Randick are eyeing state this spring

It didn't take them long to get comfortable on the golf course either. Despite poor weather conditions hampering practices and cancelling meets throughout April, Ames has looked tough in the early going.

The Little Cyclones won their first two meets. They took first at the Urbandale Invitational April 11 at the Urbandale Golf and Country Club and won a triangular dual with Des Moines Roosevelt and Des Moines Hoover April 12 at the Bright Grandview Golf Course facility in Des Moines.

Duncan led Ames at Urbandale with a nine-hole score of 42. Motl took seventh with a 50.

At the triangular, Motl was medalist runner-up behind teammate Bryce Bearson with a 44 (Bearson carded a 42). Duncan took third with a 45.

“We’re off to a pretty good start,” Motl said. “It’s just about improving every day and I really love that about golf.” 

Bearson appreciates the balance the freshmen bring to the team.

“Now we have freshmen, we have sophomores and seniors,” she said. “That diversity really helps us bond more. It makes the team better and it makes it more fun, even if we have a bad day.” 

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Bad days are naturally a part of golf. But the two freshmen have shown great poise when things aren't going their way. 

“It’s golf," Duncan said. "That’s how it works.” 

That has been especially true this season, with how much the poor weather has impacted practices and meets. 

“It’s not fun, but it’s what we have to deal with,” Duncan said. “Those conditions only make you better. You have to grow and adapt.”  

Playing at Veenker is also a big challenge for most golfers. But Duncan and Motl have a leg up on the competition in that regard.

“If you grow up on it, you know what to expect,” Duncan said. “It’s definitely one of the harder courses in the area and that makes you a better golfer.” 

Still, there is a lot of room for both golfers to grow.

They were set to play in their first 18-hole meet Thursday at the Toni Dickey Hawkette Golf Invitational held at the Otter Creek course in Ankeny. 

“Those first meets were kind of warm-ups,” Ames head coach R.J. Voss said. “Playing 18 holes and walking the course is a whole different story.” 

Voss said the short game is where both freshmen need to make their biggest gains. But Duncan and Motl want to see their entire golf game grow over their four years with the program.

“It’s always ever-changing,” Motl said. “There’s always something new to work on. I like that about golf.” 

If they can build off the momentum from their strong start, Duncan and Motl could help Ames take that next step and qualify for state this season.

"That’s a good goal for us to have,” Motl said. “I think we can do it.”