NCAA calls on Cats for first time

Bernard Schwartz

Kristen Beystehner tried to stay near the phone all day, but it was during those 10 minutes when she left to run an errand that Northwestern women’s golf coach Chris Regenberg called with the good news.

“Congratulations are in order,” Regenberg’s message on Beystehner’s answering machine began. “We did it.”

The NCAA selection committee dished out the bids for the East regionals Monday, and NU, as the fifth qualifier out of the Midwest District, made the tournament for the first time in the program’s history.

The Wildcats will make the familiar trip to Columbus, Ohio, next week, where Ohio State waits as host on its Scarlet Course. NU saw the same layout earlier this month at the Lady Buckeye.

It took eight years, but the Cats finally qualified for NCAA postseason play.

“We kind of expected it,” Beystehner said. “But until you get that phone call, you’re still nervous.”

The top five teams from the Midwest qualified for regionals, and NU was in the top five for most of the season. This weekend’s sixth-place finish at the Big Ten championships had no effect on the district standings — the Cats were in.

This year’s team wasn’t the best in NU history, but it was the most consistent. The Cats finished no worse than sixth this spring. And with four third-place finishes — at the GTE “Mo”morial, USF/River Wilderness Invitational, Hawkeye Invitational and Lady Buckeye Spring Invitational — NU wasn’t flashy in achieving its main goal for the season.

“I felt like our team did what it had to do,” Regenberg said. “This team deserves to go.”

Last season NU just missed the regionals, but sophomore Emily Gilley qualified as an individual and traveled to South Carolina without her teammates.

“It was nice to go as an individual,” Gilley said. “But it’s a different atmosphere going by yourself. Coach and I came back last year saying we would all make it this year.”

This year, Gilley will have her teammates to keep her company.

“When Emily went last year, it opened our eyes to the possibility,” Beystehner said. “To do it as a team would be even more special. It’s going to be even better, even more fun.”

Along with NU, four other Big Ten teams qualified from the Midwest. The top team was No. 21 Purdue, which won the Big Tens last weekend. Ohio State, which is hosting the regionals, finished second in the district. Michigan State took third, Indiana took fourth and the Cats rounded out the district.

But NU doesn’t mind being included behind those teams. Regenberg remembers her first two seasons when the Cats finished dead last in the conference. She remembers when a third-place finish was the exception, not the rule.

“It’s a building process,” Regenberg said. “When you’re trying to build a program, it takes time to see the progress.”

Regenberg is the only coach NU has ever had. Regenberg was there in the beginning when scholarships were scarce and the recruits didn’t buy the product she was selling.

And Regenberg was there when making regionals was the least of her team’s concerns.

“We’ve made significant strides every year,” Regenberg said. “Right now we’re seeing the results of foundations laid four or five years ago.”

It took NU five seasons to win its first tournament, the 1996-1997 Midwest Classic. It took six seasons before the Cats cracked the top three in the conference. It took eight season before NU qualified for the NCAAs.

For upperclassmen — seniors Colleen Kiely and Karen England and juniors Christie Hermes and Beystehner — who are the last links NU has to its humble beginnings, the wait was worth it.

“It’s such a tremendous accomplishment for us,” Beystehner said. “It shows how far we’ve come.”