Coming from a family of golfers, Duluth East’s Carissa Kunst has been playing the sport most of her life.
But it wasn’t until last spring that Kunst started to love golf, she acknowledged last week while hitting a bucket of balls at the Lester Park Golf Course driving range.
Kunst’s love of golf came when she was at her lowest point in the sports. At the 2017 Section 7AAA meet at Grand National Golf Course in Hinckley, Kunst finished 11th after a pair of 89s and missed a playoff to qualify for state by one stroke.
Fast forward a year and Kunst was back at Grand National as a senior, taking her final shot at qualifying. She followed up a first-round 84 with an 81 to nab the last individual qualifying spot in Section 7.
She will be at Bunker Hills Golf Course in Coon Rapids starting Tuesday for the two-day Minnesota Class AAA state meet.
“It’s means a lot because I’ve tried so hard,” said Kunst, who is heading to St. Cloud State next year to play golf and begin work on a degree in elementary education. “I knew my goal was to get there. I didn’t really start loving golf until I knew I missed (state) by one shot. This year I’ve been practicing more than ever trying to get there and make it to the top level.”
This is just the second time Kunst will have played Bunker Hills, but she’s familiar with the course after watching her older sister, Tabitha, a 2011 East graduate, make four state appearances as a Greyhound.
Tabitha Kunst, who went on to play four years at Minnesota State-Mankato, is now an assistant coach for the Mavericks’ women’s golf team while working on a degree in sports psychology.
Carissa said her older sister is not only a big influence, but a big help in every aspect of her own game - both physical and mental.
“It just helped watching her, seeing how a player grows through life,” Carissa said. “When you get older, you start getting more mature and the emotions, you can start hiding them a little more. It’s nice. There are times I get frustrated and I don’t want her to help me, but she still does. She’s my coach.”
Carissa said one of her biggest obstacles as a golfer earlier in her career was anger, but her older sister was able to help get her past that.
Now one of Kunst’s biggest strengths is her demeanor, according to Greyhounds coach Stu Sorenson.
“She rarely shows emotion when things are going well and rarely shows emotion when things aren’t going well, which if anybody has played golf before knows is a very difficult thing to do,” Sorenson said.
Being mentally strong has been a key trait to have this season as Kunst is the lone Greyhound competing full time on the varsity.
The school with Lester Park Golf Course, Northland Country Club and Ridgeview Country Club in its footprint could only muster one varsity female golfer this season.
Since golf is an individual sport, Kunst said it wasn’t too big of a deal but she says it was tough to see a school like Hermantown boast a full roster.
Why the low numbers?
Kunst said classmates switched to track and field or lacrosse this spring. The weather in Northeastern Minnesota didn’t help either, and local courses need stronger youth programs to support the sport, she said.
Sorenson said the rise of lacrosse in the area has depleted his numbers. For most youth, golf is their second or third sport behind volleyball, basketball, soccer and/or hockey - which all now operate year-round.
There are few such as Kunst who make golf their top priority, he said.
Ultimately Sorenson said he hopes the trend is temporary.
“There has been a dip, if not nationwide, but locally. It seems all the girls programs numbers are down,” Sorenson said. “There is a young group coming up that has showed enthusiasm, so who knows?”
Dylan Crist, Duluth East
Carissa Kunst, Duluth East
*Austin Danelski, Hermantown; Steve Kragseth, Hermantown; Cody Stanisich, Eveleth-Gilbert; Cyrus Behinia, Duluth Denfeld; Gordon Skaar, Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin
*Mollie Albrecht, Eveleth-Gilbert; Taya Kwiatkowski, Eveleth-Gilbert; Megan Chaffey, Hermantown; Francesca Otterson, Hermantown; Nicolle Ramirez, Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin
Cloquet-Esko boys (Sam Baker, Matthew Radovich, Keegan Poppenberg, Anthony McKay, Brayden Tyman, Trevor Steinert)
International Falls girls (Kenzie Wenberg, Olivia Besch, Maggie Roeder, Olivia Wright, Morgan Rasmussen, Keirra Aasen)
*Nicole Olson, North Woods; Kylie Parson, North Woods; Madilyn Shandorf, Bigfork
North Woods boys (*Tate Olson, Sam Frazee, Ian Olson, Chase Kleppe, Davis Kleppe, Blake Scofield)
* - denotes Section 7 champion