Matt Higgins, who led the Concordia-St. Paul women’s and men’s golf teams to nine NCAA regional appearances, has been hired as Montana’s new women’s golf coach.
He replaces Joni Stephens, who stepped down from her position in June after two years.
“Matt will be a great addition to our staff,” said UM Director of Athletics Kent Haslam. “I like his head coaching experience, that he’s managed both men and women, and that he’s had success at a school where he had limited resources and still made the most of it. I think he’s going to do a great job.”
Higgins’ women’s team made its first NCAA Central Regional appearance in 2009 and advanced to the 12-team Division II national championship in 2009 and ’11. The Golden Bears made it seven consecutive regional appearances last spring. The CSP men’s team made regionals in 2010 and ’12.
“It will be hard to leave. Concordia has been my home for 18 years, 14 of those in athletics,” said Higgins, who accepted the job earlier this week. “We’ve had some success on and off the course, and I’m proud of that. I think I’m leaving the program in pretty good shape.”
He’ll take over a Montana program that now has had three head coaches since Joanne Steele left for North Florida following the 2010-11 season. Stephens and Emily Milberger each spent two years at Montana before moving on.
“Montana is a program that’s ready to take off,” Higgins said. “The former coaches have done a great job laying the foundation. What I want to do is bring stability. It’s hard for a program to reach its potential when the players have to go through different coaching styles and philosophies.
A two-time Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference coach of the year, Higgins served more than five years on the NCAA Division II Women’s Golf Committee, part of that time as the national chair.
Higgins was born in Forest Lake, Minn., and raised just north of the Twin Cities. He earned a degree in Christian ministry from the University of Northwestern-St. Paul in 2014.
He’ll take over a young team at Montana, which opens its fall season a month from Friday at the Hobble Creek Classic at Springville, Utah.
Gone from last year’s team are its two lowest scorers. Barbora Bakova, who had a season stroke average of 75.5, transferred to Coastal Carolina. Tara Green, who had a stroke average in 2014-15 of 76.3 and career average of 76.9, best in program history, completed her four years of eligibility.
The team’s top returner is redshirt junior Alexa Schendelman, a second-team All-Big Sky Conference selection last year. Three of the team’s eight players in 2015-16 will be true freshmen.