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Native Golfer Makes Collegiate History

Native Golfer Makes Collegiate History
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Laramie Keplin has some mixed emotions about the fact he made a bit of history.

The 20-year-old, a member of North Dakota's Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, became the first athlete from the United Tribes Technical College (UTTC) to qualify for the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II golf tournament.

Keplin competed at the national event, which was staged May 20-23 in Plymouth, Indiana. But he was somewhat disappointed in his efforts at the tournament, as he finished in a tie for 94th place out of 126 golfers.

Keplin finished the event 40 strokes above par, after shooting rounds of 81, 82, 80 and 85. "After Day one, I wasn't discouraged because I still had 54 holes to play," Keplin said. "Good golfers don't usually play like that two days in a row. But, I played poorly four days in a row; I just couldn't get anything going."

Keplin did have a valid excuse. He had not competed in a tournament since last October, when he won a regional event, earning a spot into the national championship.

Following a harsh North Dakota winter, Keplin only had two and a half weeks of practice rounds to prepare for the Indiana tournament. And UTTC coach Ray Helphrey had an inkling that Keplin's lack of competition and practice in recent months would create some adversity for his athlete at the nationals. "I knew his scores would be a little higher than those he had during the [fall] season," Helphrey said.

Helphrey, who was in his first season of coaching at UTTC, said he could not take any credit for recruiting Keplin. "When I got here he was already enrolled at the school," he said. "I knew who he was through local tournaments in the state. I was a little bit excited to have him on the team."

Helphrey, a member of North Dakota's Three Affiliated Tribes, had competed in the national tourney twice himself, back in 1994 and 1995, when he attended Bismarck State College.

Helphrey also felt Keplin's scores at the nationals would go up slightly because of some anticipated nerves playing against some of the other top collegiate golfers from across the country.Yet Keplin, who has been golfing since the age of three, was still hopeful he would fare well.

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"Going into the tournament, I thought I would be near the top of the leaderboard," he said. "I was all out of sync. It's hard to get into your rhythm again after taking so much time off."

UTTC, which is governed by North Dakota tribes and has an enrolment of about 1,000 students, has been a member of the NJCAA since 1985.

Keplin, an Environmental Science student, made some school history simply advancing to the national competition. "It means a little something to me," he said. "I guess, just to go is a big deal. But I'm not happy at all with how I played."

Keplin was also hoping to have his UTTC teammates at the national finals. But the four-person team placed second at its regional qualifier in the fall, failing to advance by two strokes.

Since those at U.S. junior colleges only have two years of athletic eligibility, Keplin can only represent UTTC in one more season of action. His main goal is to qualify and have his teammates also participate at the 2015 NJCAA tournament.

Keplin is not quite sure what his future holds. He would not be able to represent UTTC athletically, but he could remain at the school for two more years to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. Or, he could transfer to a Division I school, where he could play at the NCAA level for two more years.

"He definitely has the desire [to play at a higher level]," Helphrey said. "But there are some things we would need to work on."

More specifically?

"He has to work on everything to get to the next level," he said.