Illini women’s golf looks to finish fall season on top

By Lucas Wright

The Illinois women’s golf team is going into its final tournament of the fall season at the Jim West Challenge in Boerne, Texas, having won its last two events.

Most recently, the Illini took the title at the Hoosier Fall Invitational by powering through Boston College and Indiana in the first two rounds of match play, and by topping Fresno State in the championship round, 3-2.

Individually, Stephanie Miller is coming off being named Co-Big Ten Player of the Week. She carded an opening round 72, which tied her for second overall, and finished with two wins and one loss in match play for the Illini.

Miller’s honor marks the second time an Illini has been named Big Ten Player of the Week. Dana Gattone was the first, garnering the award as a result of her victory in the Diane Thomason Invitational.

Gattone believes that this honor fuels the entire team.

“It’s something that can help everyone improve, and it’s something that we are all striving for,” Gattone said. “We’re using all of that momentum to get all of us going and to keep us going into this weekend.”

The team will take the same five players to Texas as it did to Indiana: Miller, Gattone, Grace Park, Samantha Postillion and Chayanid Prapassarangkul. Separate from the team, senior Pimploy Thirati will compete as an individual at the tournament.

The Illini have been led by Miller and Gattone throughout the season, but recently, the addition of senior Postillion into the traveling lineup has helped the team. 

“She brings a lot of experience, and it brings a lot to the table for the entire team, especially when we have a younger team out there,” assistant coach Jenny Coluccio said. “She already has the mentality going into this event that she enjoys it.”

The tournament will take place at the Tapatio Springs Golf Course, a course that the Illini aren’t familiar with. Even though the team is new to the course, Coluccio and head coach Renee Slone have prepared the Illini for what they will see in the competition.

Gattone mentioned that the week leading up to the tournament has given the team a chance to focus on long putting, which will be important on the large greens at Tapatio. Coach Slone has also worked with the team on strategies for breaking down approach shots for attacking the spacious greens.

The biggest factor this weekend, according to Gattone, will be if the team can bring the same amount of energy as it did at Indiana.

“It was all about high energy and positive thinking,” Gattone said about the tournament at Indiana. “We were making putts that we would normally not make, we were executing shots great, and it was a really great team effort.”

The Illini will face a tough field, including Wisconsin, Ole Miss and host Texas State. Illinois tees off Sunday at 8 a.m. and the final round will conclude on Tuesday.

Lucas can be reached at lswrigh2 or on Twitter @LucasWright95.