Golf hopes for push in final match of season


Nancy Featherstone Erica Magda

By Rich Mayor

The Illinois women’s golf team has dedicated this season to developing its young players, and its final opportunity takes place this weekend in the Lone Star state.

The Illini will travel to Austin, Texas, for the Challenge at Wolfdancer beginning Sunday. The squad is coming off an 11th-place finish at its toughest tournament of the season, the Lady Northern, two weeks ago. Wolfdancer features the largest tournament field Illinois has seen all season, with 16 teams, including three Big Ten opponents in Iowa, Michigan and defending champion Northwestern. The tournament is hosted by Texas State.

“The past couple weeks we’ve had some really good practices, and we’ve worked a lot on our short games which hopefully will pay off this weekend,” head coach Renee Slone said. “(Nancy Featherstone and Raquel Hopton) have seen this golf course before, they played there last year, and it’s a challenging golf course but it does present a number of opportunities for us to hit some short irons to the greens.”

Last season, Illinois finished in fifth at Wolfdancer, which propelled the squad to a spring season in which it won two tournaments. This young Illini team has a lot of improving to do if it’s going to repeat last year’s accolades, however.

“Putting is very important, we need to start rolling the ball better and make a few putts,” Slone said. “It really just comes down the short game, the game from 125 yards and in. We need to start scoring and taking advantage of opportunities.”

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    The lineup for this tournament features three freshmen: Hailey Koschmann, Samantha Sloan and Kaitlyn Wampler. Joining the youth movement are Featherstone and Hopton. Koschmann and Sloan are bright spots for an Illinois team that hasn’t finished better than ninth in a tournament this season. The freshmen lead the team in stroke average, with Koschmann at 76.33 and Sloan at 77.83.

    Slone is starting her fifth different lineup of the fall season at Wolfdancer.

    “With a young team, it’s great that everyone has had an opportunity to compete and get the experience of playing in a college tournament,” Slone said. “That’s just the way qualifying has gone – different players have performed well at different times during qualifying and we take the top five from those tournaments, so we’ve had a few different people in there each week.”

    Slone sees the different lineups as a positive aspect of the team’s maturation.

    “(The different lineups) are a good thing,” Slone said. “It challenges people, pushes them and makes them work harder because they get a taste of it, and they know they have to bring it every single time in qualifying and practice, because if they don’t there’s somebody else standing right there.”

    To end the season on a positive note, the Illini must improve their performances in the opening round.

    “Getting off to a good start is important,” Slone said. “We’ve had a bit of a slow start to every tournament we’ve played in so far this fall, so just getting three solid rounds under our belts to finish the fall season will be a great way to wrap things up and look forward to the spring.”