Hunt on for berth in NCAA regionals

When the second round of the Hawkeye Invitational ended Saturday afternoon, the Northwestern women’s golf team rested just one shot behind first-place Michigan.

And when NU sophomore Emily Gilley finished her 36 holes that day, she too was in second place, only two strokes behind Michigan’s Kim Benedict.

Sunday had the potential to be a great day.

But Gilley and the Wildcats stumbled. With a final round 82, Gilley settled for fourth place, tied with teammate Kristen Beystehner. And with a 322 on Sunday, NU fell to third, finishing six strokes behind first-place Iowa and four behind runner-up Michigan.

“We felt confident this weekend,” Gilley said. “But the finish was disappointing.”

Freshman Elizabeth Burden was in third place after shooting back-to-back 74s Saturday, but like Gilley, she blew up with a final round 88.

Of the five NU golfers — excluding senior Colleen Kiely, who competed at the Hawkeye as an individual — only Beystehner carded a final round in the 70s. Junior Christie Hermes and senior Karen England tallied 81 and 84, respectively. Both Hermes and England finished out of the top 20.

The Cats continued a trend of third-place finishes this weekend. NU also placed third at the GTE “Mo”morial and the Waterlefe/USF Invitational, which both took place in March.

But such steady tournaments, including last weekend’s Indiana Invitational, where NU took fourth, and the Hawkeye, have been crucial for the Cats seeking their first-ever bid to the NCAA East Regionals.

NU has all but secured the fourth spot in the Midwest District, where the top five teams receive invitations to the NCAAs.

“It wasn’t our best finish,” Kiely said. “But we did what we had to do by closing out Wisconsin and Kent (this weekend).”

A strong start this spring — a fifth at February’s Midwest Classic in Dallas — got the Cats into the hunt for an NCAA bid, and NU has spent the last few tournaments solidifying its position and fending off all challengers.

The standings in the Midwest District did not change this week. Purdue, Michigan State, Indiana, NU and Ohio State retained the top five spots.

The Cats have just one more regular season tournament, the Lady Buckeye Spring Invitational, which takes place this weekend at Columbus, Ohio. It will be the last time NU plays against a predominantly Big Ten field before the Big Ten Championships later this month. It will be the Cats’ last chance to earn qualifying points for the NCAAs and to see which five golfers NU will use during the postseason.

Despite the final-round stumblings of her teammates, the play of Beystehner, who is not a regular member of the Cats’ lineup, was a bright spot at the Hawkeye. She got only stronger over the weekend, balancing an opening round 79 with two 75s.

“This weekend we didn’t seem to all play well at the same time,” Gilley said. “But we’ve got confidence that things will eventually fall into place.”