Joni Stephens, who spent 12 years coaching at Eastern Kentucky University, has been named the new women’s golf coach at the University of Montana. Stephens replaces Emily Milberger, who took the Fresno State job earlier this month after two years coaching the Grizzlies.
Stephens will begin her duties at Montana on Sept. 3, six days before the Grizzlies open their 2013-14 season with the Grizzly Invitational at the Missoula Country Club.
“I feel very honored to have this opportunity to become the women’s golf coach at Montana,” said Stephens, who will spend her Labor Day weekend driving nearly 2,000 miles from Richmond, Ky., to Missoula.
“I’m looking forward to building on what Coach Milberger did in moving the program forward and working with such a young, talented team. I feel like all the components are there to be able to develop a nationally competitive program.”
Stephens coached the Colonels from 1998 to 2010 and was co-owner, with her husband Pat, of Stephens Golf from 1990-2008. Pat Stephens has been the men’s coach at EKU since 1997-98 and has guided the Colonels to a pair of NCAA regional appearances during his tenure.
Eastern Kentucky had back-to-back second-place finishes at the Ohio Valley Conference championship in 2005 and ’06 under Stephens, who was named the 2005 OVC coach of the year. EKU also had third-place finishes in 1999 and 2008.
Stephens coached Brittany Klein to Ohio Valley Conference medalist honors in 2005 and produced 10 All-Ohio Valley performers and six Ohio Valley all-tournament selections. In Stephens’ 12-year career, the Colonels won four tournaments and had five individual tournament champions.
Eastern Kentucky won the 2005 Ohio Valley Conference Team Academic Achievement Award and three times had EKU’s highest academic-year departmental team GPA.
Stephens, who together with her husband has three sons between the ages of 20 and 31, stepped down from her head coaching position following the 2010 season.
“It was a time that helped me realize that I miss what I do best and what I love, which is coaching and teaching golf,” she said. “It was a good hiatus for me and made me really excited about getting back.”
Stephens has an undergraduate degree in physical education/dance and a master’s degree in physical education, both from Eastern Kentucky. She was an instructor and coach at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., in the early 90s and an instructor and assistant professor during her time at EKU.
“Teaching just runs in my family. My father, my sister, my brothers, uncles, aunts, cousins,” Stephens said.
“What I’ve always loved most about teaching are those light-bulb moments when you have a student who suddenly realizes they can do something they didn’t think they were capable of accomplishing. And that goes right into coaching golf.
“I enjoy watching the development as these young ladies come through your college program, from young girls as freshmen when they come in to women by the time they graduate as seniors.”
At Montana Stephens will inherit more of the former than the latter. The Grizzlies’ seven-player roster for 2013-14 will have two true freshmen in Barbora Bakova, of the Czech Republic, and Amanda Kahn, of Carlsbad, Calif., plus redshirt freshman Alexa Schendelman, a transfer from Oregon State.
Montana will have just two upperclassmen, senior Lindsey Reeve and junior Tara Green, though Reeve is beginning just her second year in the program after transferring from New Mexico State. Also back are sophomores Hayley Bingham and Phoebe Tan.
Green led the Grizzlies last season with a season stroke average of 76.7.
Montana finished eighth at the 11-team Big Sky Conference championship last spring. After opening with a round of 322, the Grizzlies improved to 307 on day two and shot a 290 on day three, the second-best round in program history.
“Although this team is young, it certainly has proved its ability to shoot the kind of scores that will take us to the next level,” Stephens said.
“I’ve got a senior and a junior who tell me that the team dynamic is excellent and that they’re very, very excited about the year ahead. I’m really looking forward to getting to know them and their games and finding out what they are capable of doing this year.”
— UM Sports Information