Women’s golf finishes fall season much like it began; finish 12th

Freshman Kaitlyn Wampler blasts the ball onto the fairway during practice at the Champaign Country Club on Sept. 18. Erica Magda

Freshman Kaitlyn Wampler blasts the ball onto the fairway during practice at the Champaign Country Club on Sept. 18. Erica Magda

By Rich Mayor

While one could make the argument that the Illinois women’s golf team has made strides this fall season, it’s unanimous that the squad has to turn its considerable potential into results on the links before joining the elite of the Big Ten.

The Illini finished 12th of 16 in their final tournament of the year, the Challenge at Wolfdancer, last weekend. The team started slowly once again, shooting a 43-over par 331 in the first round, which put them in a tie for 14th. They managed to shave 12 strokes from their first-round debacle in the second and an additional one in the third, but it wasn’t enough to make a significant jump up the leaderboard. They finished 104-over par for the tournament, while Colorado won at 64-over par.

Quick, unreceptive greens, a difficult course and poor course management did Illinois in.

“It was the same for everybody, everybody had to play the course,” head coach Renee Slone said. “We just didn’t play smart. We made a number of mistakes that led to big, big numbers.”

The top two finishers for the Illini were freshman Samantha Sloan, whose 19-over par was good for a tie of 24th place, and senior Nancy Featherstone, who tied for 35th at 23-over par.

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The Illini, in their five tournaments this fall, finished 10th, 9th, 9th, 11th and 12th. The squad suffered from an extreme lack of consistency but truly did show signs of potential future success.

“The future is very bright, this team has a ton of potential,” Slone said glowingly. “The 299 we shot at Northwestern shows that the talent is there, we can do it, and it’s now a matter of working hard on important areas and gaining consistency.”

But now the team will be on hiatus until the Islander Spring Classic on Feb. 23. During the winter, the Illini will work on elements of their game off the links as well.

“We’re going to be working out a lot,” Sloan said. “We’ve got weights Monday, Wednesday, Friday and a Pilates-yoga thing on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so we’re going to get in really good shape and stronger. We’ll definitely utilize the Demirjian indoor facility a lot as well.”

The team’s top four players in terms of average strokes per round – Sloan, Hailey Koschmann, Abby Cotter and Nora Lucas – are freshmen.

“We have a lot of potential,” Sloan said. “Right now we may not be showing it but we’re still learning what we need to work on. We’re still adjusting to college life let alone college golf, and that shows we definitely have the potential to be so much better in the future.”

Slone has stressed the importance of dramatically improving the short games of the entire team, as well as course management and “not always trying to hit the hero shot.”

“I knew going in that the fall would be a challenge, a big challenge for us, and that it would be a learning experience,” Slone said. “Now that we’ve got five tournaments under our belt we can look at that, look at the bright spots and then see the areas we need work on and improve. We’ll do that over these next three months, then come springtime we’ll hopefully learn and grow and gain some consistency.”