COLUMBIA — Don’t challenge Stephanie Priesmeyer to a game of checkers anytime soon.
The Missouri women’s golf coach can’t seem to do anything but win.
As a senior at MU in 1994, Priesmeyer recorded just the second individual win in the program’s history at the UMKC Invitational. As the girls golf coach at Hickman High school from 1996-2001, her teams took home four district championships in six years and five top-10 finishes in the state tournament. For her last three years at Hickman, she added the title of boys golf coach to her already impressive resumé. In her brief stint there, her Kewpies won the district championship in all three seasons, placing in the top 10 at the state tournament each year.
Even as an assistant girls basketball coach, her junior varsity teams lost just five of 61 games in her final three seasons.
Priesmeyer’s latest gig, one she calls her dream job, gave her the opportunity to make a name for herself as one of the premier coaches in women’s golf today. In 2004, she was named Big 12 Coach of the Year, and followed it up in 2005 as the NCAA Central Region Coach of the Year.
Thursday, her Tigers will tee it up at the University of Georgia Golf Club in the NCAA East Regional in Athens, Ga., their sixth consecutive appearance in NCAA Regional play. Although the Tigers sneaked into the tournament with a fourth-place finish at the Big 12 Championships on April 25-27, if Priesmeyer’s history is any kind of guide, they should feel confident.
In a sport that makes it difficult to coach players during competition, Priesmeyer says recruiting is the biggest reason for her success.
“It’s so big at this level,” Priesmeyer said. “We always want to get recruits who we feel like fit well together on and off the course, but are also committed to doing well in the classroom. When we’re able to do that, it always seems like they do well working for us and trust us.”
Priesmeyer’s teams earn high GPAs, which haven’t dipped below a team average of 3.3 since the 2002-2003 season, her second year at MU.
But that still doesn’t explain the success at levels in which recruiting isn’t a part of the game.
Sophomore Julia Potter, the Tigers’ top golfer this season and an All-Big 12 performer, says it boils down to trust.
“I’m a player who really doesn’t like to practice a whole lot,” Potter said. “She trusts me enough though, to know that I know how much I need to practice and she’s not one of those coaches who’s going to yell at me if I’m not on the course every day.”
The daughter of a basketball coach in southern Indiana, Priesmeyer describes her younger self as a “gym rat.” The work ethic she developed then carried over into her coaching career, but during the past four years, she’s seen the late nights in her office come to an end. In 2005, she married her husband Scott, and a year and a half later, their first son, Cooper, was born. Priesmeyer is also expecting a second child in September.
“Back before I was married, I’d have the players out playing on the weekends, because I wasn’t doing anything,” she said. “They would have to play and would have as little lives as I did at that point and time. Now though, they have weekends off in the fall, and practice is always over by five. Five to eight every night is my time with Cooper and the team knows not to call me until Coop goes to bed.”
Although the changes took Priesmeyer out of the office more often to spend time with family, her teams didn’t suffer. If anything, they thrived. The season after Priesmeyer was married, the Tigers qualified for the NCAA Championships, the program’s first appearance in its 33-year history.
After hiring former player Mindy Bullard as an assistant in 2007, the two split recruiting time, giving Priesmeyer some much-needed time at home.
Priesmeyer says she wants to call Columbia home for as long as possible. So, of course, her basketball background begs the question: Would she be open to the possibility of one day roaming the sidelines of Mizzou Arena?
“No, no, no,” Priesmeyer said, laughing. “(Missouri) Coach (Cindy) Stein told me once, ‘You’ve got the best job on campus.’ Jobs like she has are so high-pressure, but where I’m at, I can maybe have a couple bad years here and there, but if my kids are doing what their supposed to do as students and citizens, I’m probably going to keep my job. Making that jump is something I wouldn’t even begin to think I’m ready to do.”
Since it’s difficult for Priesmeyer to coach her players during competition, she puts most of her energy into pushing her players before they take the course.
“The best thing I can do is to put my players in positions they’re going to be in during competition,” Priesmeyer said. “We had some days in the weeks before the Big 12 Championships where it was 35 degrees, raining, sleeting, the wind was blowing and I just said, ‘All right, it’s a bad day, but we’re going to go out and play.’”
The Tigers finished 11th and 14th in their two March tournaments in the Midwest, but when the windy conditions of the Big 12 Championships in Stillwater, Okla. rolled in, they parlayed their experience to a clutch fourth-place finish, shoring up a spot in the NCAA Regional Championships. Her players were quick to thank her and Bullard for being so stubborn on days when the course was essentially empty.
“Nobody wants to get out there and play in that, especially on weekends,” Priesmeyer said. “But what we tell them is, ‘you know, hopefully the competition is still sleeping, and we’re out here working hard.’”
Preparing her players also means giving them access to courses similar to ones they’ll see in competition. One of the more prominent features of The University of Georgia Golf Club is its elevated greens. Priesmeyer thought her players not only needed to see a course similar to one they would see this week, but they also needed to see one they had never seen before and manage it to score well.
On Sunday, two days before the Tigers were scheduled to leave for Athens, they loaded up and traveled to St. Louis to play a course Priesmeyer thought had a look similar to what they will see Thursday.
“It’s all about doing everything we can to put our players in a position to succeed,” Priesmeyer said. “We can’t hit the shots for them, but as long as we’re doing our job, I know our girls will go out and take advantage of their opportunities.”