April 26, 2006
As the 2006 Big Ten Women's Golf Championships approaches, the conference office takes a brief look into this weekend's competitors. The league's 11 teams will converge on the Indiana University Golf Course in Bloomington, Ind., April 28-30, to vie for the 2006 conference title.
The Fighting Illini are coming off an 11th-place finish at the Lady Buckeye Invitational, which had eight Big Ten squads in the field. The Orange and Blue posted two impressive top-five performances prior to the Lady Buckeye, including a win at the Plantation Inn Invitational in late March. Illinois recently served as host of the Illini Spring Classic, in which it placed fourth out of 16 teams in the field. This past week in Columbus, Illinois' closing 298 stood tied for the eighth-best round in school history; the 54-hole total of 912 earned the team the fifth-best 54-hole total in UI annals and sophomore Seul Ki Park's 222 narrowly missed Illinois' best score for a three-round tournament. In addition to Park, senior Megan Godfrey and sophomore Casey Burden have played well for the Illini this spring and will look to give retiring head coach Paula Smith one last run at a Big Ten title.
The Hoosiers serve as host of the Big Ten Women's Golf Championships for the first time since 1996 - a tournament in which the Cream and Crimson captured both team and individual titles. First-year head coach Clint Wallman has seen improvement in his squad throughout the spring. The Hoosiers averaged a team score of 318.2 through the opening two tournaments this spring, but over its last three tournaments, IU has dropped its per-round average by 10 strokes to 307.8. Leading the charge is senior transfer Shannon Johnson, who has captured two titles, a runner-up finish and a pair of Golfer of the Week honors this season. She is on pace to become one of only four Hoosier golfers in the history of the program to record a single-season average below 75. Sophomore Elaine Harris has also seen steady improvement this spring, while senior Katie Carlson will take to her home course in her final Big Ten Championships appearance.
The Hawkeyes enter the postseason fresh off a two-week break after taking a season-best third at the Illini Spring Classic. Jill Marcum and Karla Murra led Iowa with seventh and 19th-place finishes, respectively. At last year's event, Iowa placed sixth, which was the best outcome in head coach Bobbe Carney's three years at Iowa. Murra finished 16th, while Amy Riepma, who is in the lineup for the 2006 Championships, finished 28th. Momentum has been building for the Hawkeyes as they have posted two fourth-place finishes and a third in their past three events. Earlier in the fall, they captured the nine-team Hawkeye Intercollegiate, their lone win of the season.
As iced-over greens, high winds and snow forced the cancellation of the final round of the 2005 Big Ten Championships, the Wolverines ended the shortened tournament on their home course with a runner-up showing for the program's highest conference finish in the U-M history. En route to the second-place outcome, Michigan had three players among the top 12 individually. Two of those three Wolverines return this weekend as Brianna Broderick and Amy Schmucker look to improve on their ninth and 10th-place finishes from a year ago. Schmucker, who has played in 46 straight tournaments for the Maize and Blue and was named Big Ten Golfer of the Week earlier this spring, won her second collegiate title in her Michigan career at the Rio Verde Collegiate (March 2-4) with a career-best 215. Her efforts helped Michigan to second place in the 17-team field. The Wolverines have also been away for two weeks, but are coming off a runner-up finish at the Illini Spring Classic.
The Spartans, who are ranked 27th by Golfweek/Sagarin, enter this weekend's competition on the heels of a sixth-place finish at the Lady Buckeye Invitational. Sophomore Sara Brown, ranked No. 51 in the nation, was the top Spartan with a three-round total of 220 (75-70-75), which tied for 11th place. The top-20 finish was Brown's seventh of the season and 10th of her career. Junior Rachel Meikle was honored earlier in the month after her career performance at the Northwestern Invitational. Meikle was tabbed Big Ten Golfer of the Week after finishing the 54-hole event in third place at 6-under-par 210 (70-70-70). The 210 broke the school record score of 214, while her rounds of 70 were the best in her Spartan career. Michigan State finished third at the 2005 Big Ten Championships, which marked the seventh-straight season the Spartans placed fifth or better in the postseason event. In fact, MSU has been third or better in five of the last seven years, including a first-place finish in 2001.
The Gophers are looking to improve on their seventh-place finish of a year ago with one of the youngest lineups in the country. Minnesota will be playing with three true freshmen, one sophomore and two juniors. Two of the six Gopher competitors either started their careers or are currently walk-ons to the program. Leading the Maroon and Gold into the event are two true freshmen, Sydney Liles and Suvi Mantyniemi. Liles led the team at the Lady Buckeye Invitational last weekend and has a career-best round of 74 this season. Mantyiemi is the only Gopher to have played in every event and leads the team in stroke average at 78.1. At last year's Big Ten Championships in Ann Arbor, Mich., the top Gopher finisher was Sophie Stubbs, who tied for 22nd. Stubbs is coming off her best three-round score of the season at last week's Lady Buckeye.
The Northwestern Wildcats enter this weekend ranked 47th nationally and have their eyes set on improving from fifth place one year ago. NU is coming off a ninth-place outcome at the Lady Buckeye Invitational, however the Wildcats have posted a pair of top-three finishes this spring, including a win at the Rio Verde Collegiate in early March. This past weekend in Ohio, junior Alice Kim, a two-time Big Ten Golfer of the Week honoree this season, registered her seventh top-20 effort on the year with an 11th-place finish at 4-over 220. Sophomore Katie Trachok turned in her best effort of the spring with a 24th-place finish at the Lady Buckeye.
The Buckeyes, who are ranked 22nd in the latest Golfweek/Sagarin ratings, are looking for their fifth-straight Big Ten title. Ohio State leads all teams with 11 conference championships and has earned eight medalist honors as well. Two Buckeyes currently ranked in the nation's top 100 that could give OSU its ninth individual title are Dana Je and Stephanie Connelly. Je, who finished tied for fourth at last year's Big Ten Championships, is ranked 65th in the country, while Connelly is 80th. Earlier in the month, Je, who was a second-team All-Big Ten selection last year, earned weekly honors from the conference after placing tied for fifth at the Peg Barnard Collegiate, which was her lowest finish this season. Another OSU golfer who earned second-team All-Conference honors last season was Jennifer Selfinger, who placed tied for seventh 3-over 219 this past weekend at the Lady Buckeye. She is the conference's top returner as she placed third at last year's championships.
Penn State heads into the weekend on the heels of an eighth-place finish at the Lady Buckeye. Senior co-captain Amber Weinerth and junior Maggie Lester led the Nittany Lions, placing 24th and 34th, respectively. Senior Katrin Wolfe came away from the tournament with a team-low round of 71, which tied her career best. The Lady Buckeye was the first action for the Nittany Lions since the squad turned in a stellar performance in Virginia with a win at the James Madison's Bonnie Hoover Invitational on April 9. Weinerth sparked a final-round Nittany Lion rally, finishing fourth and helping Penn State to the tournament title. She posted a two-round total of 150 and shared Big Ten Golfer of the Week honors for her efforts.
The seventh-ranked Boilermakers pose a threat to the field this weekend as they boast the only three golfers ranked in the nation's top 50 in No. 22 Onnarin Sattayabanphot, No. 36 Christina Boeljon and No. 42 Maria Hernandez. Those three golfers also posted top-7 finishes in a field of eight conference teams last week at the Lady Buckeye Invitational. Boeljon and Hernandez both tied for seventh overall, while Sattayabanphot shot even-par to finish fourth, earning her the final Golfer of the Week honor of the season. Sattayabanphot also placed fourth at last year's Big Ten Championships. Purdue's lone conference championship came in 2000 when it won in Madison. The Boilermakers placed fourth in 1996, the last time the event was held at Indiana, but captured the Lady Northern title this past fall in Bloomington - a tournament which is dubbed the Big Ten Preview.
Looking to improve on last year's eighth-place finish, the Wisconsin Badgers will take to the course with a freshman, a sophomore, and an experienced senior leading the way. Freshman Jeana Dahl boasts a scoring average of 77.85 in all 27 rounds this season, which ranks ninth on the all-time single-season list and is currently the lowest scoring average by a freshman in school history. Sophomore Katie Elliott joins Dahl as the only Badgers to play in all 27 rounds this season and currently leads the team in scoring average at 77.04. Elliott, the Big Ten Golfer of the Week for March 2, has led the Badgers in all four tournaments this spring and has finished 14th or better four times this season. Senior Lindsay McMillan ranks third on the team in scoring at 79.0, but brings the experience to the young Badger squad. She has played in 123 career rounds, the most among active Badgers, including three Big Ten Championships, one NCAA Regional and one NCAA Championship. McMillan also fired a hole-in-one during the second round of last weekend's Lady Buckeye invitational.