Patience, potential summarize upcoming season for Illinois women’s golf

By Rich Mayor

Illinois women’s golf head coach Renee Slone will have a fair amount in common with elementary school teachers this season.

The keyword this fall for Slone and her team will be “patience.”

The squad is made up of seven freshmen, one sophomore and one senior. The freshmen, despite being highly accomplished and talented, will inevitably endure growing pains. The rest of the team hopes that the fresh start will only lead to bigger and better things in the future.

The team includes the seven talented freshmen; Abby Cotter, Katelin Dilger, Maureen Liddy, Nora Lucas, Hailey Koschmann, Samantha Sloan and Kaitlyn Wampler, along with sophomore Raquel Hopton and senior Nancy Featherstone.

“We have a very young team,” Slone says. “To have that many freshmen is very uncommon in college golf. We have a lot of talent on the team, so I think for now it’s just a matter of gaining experience at the collegiate level. They have competed nationally and have experienced quite a bit of success already in junior tournaments.”

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    A laundry list of summer successes accompanies these freshmen into their first tournament as official Illini.

    Wampler and Sloan qualified for events on the Futures Tour, which is known as “the Road to the LPGA and Beyond.” It has been designated as the official developmental tour of the LPGA since 1999. Meanwhile, Dilger played in the Junior World Championship at Carlton Oaks Country Club in Santee, Calif.

    In addition to these summer accomplishments, strides have been made since the team began practicing in Champaign.

    “We’ve worked on our short games a lot with our coach,” Sloan said. “She has all these different drills for us to do, and they’ve helped a lot. So we’ve been here for only three weeks, and there’s definitely been some improvement.”

    That improvement has shown in the “inter-team” events early this year.

    “We’ve had some qualifying rounds to determine our first lineup for our first tournament and during those as a team we shot 299 and 291,” Slone said. “The 291 ties our 18-hole school record in a tournament – obviously these weren’t tournament conditions, they were playing in a tournament within the team, but I think that’s a very good sign of things to come.”

    The young Illini open the season Monday in Lincoln, Neb., at the Chip-N-Club Invitational. Freshmen Cotter, Koschmann, Liddy, Lucas and Sloan will compete in the 54-hole tournament at the par-72 Wilderness Ridge Golf Course. Kansas and Nebraska are two of the stronger programs Illinois will face in the 13-team field.

    “This is a brand-new event, we’ve never played at this golf course before and I’ve never seen the course myself so I don’t really know much about it,” Slone said. “We’re just going to go there and do the best we can. It’s a good event for us to start off at. It’s a solid field, and a good event to get our feet wet. It’s a good building block for us.”

    Building blocks and heavy doses of patience are not the most obvious ingredients for immediate success, yet both elements are vital for the team’s success in the long run. The freshmen are still getting accustomed to their new lives.

    “Right now they’re balancing golf and college and being away from home for the first time along with everything else the typical college student experiences,” Slone said. “I expect us to have some success in the first few tournaments, but I definitely feel like the best time for us will be down the road. It’ll take some time, patience will be very important for us.”