Abrupt ending doesn’t dim stellar careers of WU golf seniors
On Thursday, March 12, as the NCAA prepared to announce the cancellation of all spring collegiate sports, the Washington University golf team was in Florida, tuning out distractions and enjoying each other’s presence. The team knew that the afternoon’s practice would likely be their last of the season. For the seniors—Emily Carnes and Samantha Haubenstock—it would be their last as competitive golfers. As the twilight of the two seniors’ careers arrived sooner than expected, head coach Mary Swanson turned over the reins, allowing the seniors to decide what the team would do on the course that afternoon.
“They really had a lot of fun and they were competitive, kind of giving each other a hard time till the end,” Swanson said. “They weren’t going to let what was going on around them spoil the opportunity to enjoy being a part of their team for a final time. I really felt like that was a strong statement of how much they cared about the program and each other. They could have been talking about the day’s events but they stayed present and had fun with it. I really appreciated their leadership in that way.”
The moment provides insight into both the coach and the players. Swanson, who emphasizes the importance of a good process in attaining a good result, allowed the seniors the space to relish that process. Carnes and Haubenstock, in turn, helped create something both carefree and competitive. The result was one of the best practices that the golf team had all year.
“We took in that that was probably going to be our last day together, and we just had an outstanding time,” Carnes said. “If we were just going through the motions, getting ready for our tournament, we probably wouldn’t have had that special of a time together. There are ups and downs to everything. It’s very disappointing that we can’t finish the season all the way through, but we’re doing our part to keep everyone healthy, and the team’s gonna do great next year.”
At the start of both Carnes’ and Haubenstock’s golfing careers, neither expected that the sport would come to be so important in their lives. Carnes started playing softball at three years old and did not expect to stop until college. After her freshman year of high school, a year where the only sport she played was softball, Carnes realized she did not enjoy being a single-sport athlete and picked up golf. “I had a great high school coach, who made it really fun and motivated everyone really well,” Carnes said, adding that “that inspired me to take that one step further.”
Haubenstock’s journey in golf started as an escape from mind-numbing boredom. Her father would take her older brother golfing and, rather than remaining cooped up at home, Haubenstock accompanied them. Eventually, she picked up a club and started to play with them.
“My brother doesn’t really play golf,” Haubenstock said. “He just plays for fun. I was the one who really got into it.”
Despite their unexpected starts, the seniors’ dedication to the game has been unflappable. Both have excelled even as the team around them has shifted. Carnes is a three-time Women’s Golf Coaches’ Association Academic All-American. Haubenstock had what may have been the best individual season for any golfer in Wash. U. history. Her 2016-2017 campaign rewrote the record books as she earned the top spots in school history for birdies in a season, par-3 scoring, par-5 scoring and scoring average (a record broken this year by freshman Annie Mascot).
“Both on and off the course we were getting a lot of great leadership from both of them,” Swanson said. “There’s just a maturity with seniors that is really nice to have around. They led in the weight room, which I think is really important for sport performance. We just really appreciated all the ways that they connected with the team.”
This year posed a new challenge for Haubenstock. Coming off a semester abroad in Spring 2019 where she did not play golf at all, she worked to get back into the rhythm of collegiate athletics while trying to teach freshmen how to do the same.
“I was definitely excited to come back and see our new team and all the freshmen we had coming in,” Haubenstock said. “I also was excited to get back into the swing of things and go back into a much more structured day with practices, workouts and then class.”
She more than met that challenge. Going into the spring season, Haubenstock was the No. 6 women’s golfer in Division III, according to Golfstat.com. More importantly, she and Carnes had been fantastic leaders for the young team. While the golf team does not officially have captains, the two seniors took it upon themselves to instill a sense of teamwork among the freshmen and sophomores.
“I think it was on us to make sure our team was bonding, we were hanging out and everyone was friends with each other, having a good time, and we were able to have team dinners or do activities without our coach and have that bonding that makes a team a team rather than just eight different golfers playing their individual rounds,” Haubenstock said.
The result was a team primed for success this spring. Between the emergence of Annie Mascot as one of the best golfers in Division III, the development of freshmen like Alena Lindh and Emmy Sammons and the consistent leadership and contributions from Carnes and Haubenstock, the team looked poised to contend for a national championship.
“Certainly based on the fall and how much momentum we had, we were hoping to contend for a national championship this year,” Swanson said.
Carnes echoed Swanson’s assessment of the Bears’ chances. “Especially coming off of a team-record-setting fall, we were looking forward to doing something special at the championship, so it’s disappointing that we won’t get the chance to do that,” she said.
“This was our year,” Haubenstock said.
At the end of almost every season, as the hand of a champion wraps around the base of a trophy, closure is granted to the other competitors. Regrets over misplays and gripes over missed calls may linger, but to have competed and lost—or, for a select few, won—is the ultimate conclusion that liberates one to hang up their cleats and walk away. That feeling, so consistent and predictable that it had rightfully been taken for granted, was denied to seniors this season.
“It’s really difficult,” Carnes said. “The goal for me coming into this was to make it through four years. It’s not that I didn’t. But it’s that we couldn’t see that full result of the fourth year.”
For some seniors around the country, there will be another chance to go out and compete. The NCAA announced that all seniors in spring sports will be granted another year of eligibility. But for Carnes—who plans to enter medical school next fall—and Haubenstock—who plans to enter the workforce—this year will be the end of the road.
“Being an athlete, I guess it was my last time to go out and play. I’ll probably never really play competitive golf again,” Haubenstock said. “It just sucks that it was taken away. But at the same time, it is what it is. There’s no one you can be mad at about this or anything like that.”
While their careers never reached the conclusion they expected, the process still yielded results that made their experience worth the time and effort. Both Carnes and Haubenstock fondly remembered setting a school record at Rhodes College in 2018 before breaking their own record again last fall. They both discussed subtle but important moments they spent bonding with their teammates. They both referenced that final practice in Florida as a high point to conclude their careers.
“Sometimes we take for granted the opportunity to see each other every day and just interact with other people every day,” Carnes said. “Now, we all know that that’s not really something we can do.”
Those moments leave an imprint far deeper than hardware ever could.