Country’s top teams await NU at NCAAs

Bernard Schwartz

Some of the nation’s best teams will be in Columbus, Ohio, this week for the NCAA East regionals. And for the first time in school history, the Northwestern women’s golf team will be there as well.

For the first time in eight seasons, the final round of the Big Ten championships was not the Wildcats’ last taste of postseason play. A successful spring in which the team finished no worse than sixth guaranteed NU an invitation to its first regionals. And the Cats don’t intend to waste the chance.

“I think we need to be more diligent this week,” junior Kristen Beystehner said. “It’s an important tournament.”

The regular season may determine which teams get to regionals, but it’s a team’s regional performance that dictates who advances to the NCAA championships, to be played later this month in Sun River, Ore. Only 11 of 24 teams and three individuals are guaranteed the trip to Oregon out of the East region.

But NU can’t worry about moving on now, when it still has 54 holes to endure on Ohio State’s Scarlet Course, the No. 1 ranked college course in the nation and a layout that’s never kind to those who challenge it.

The Cats have seen the Scarlet before, at last month’s Lady Buckeye Spring Invitational, where they finished third behind the top-20 finishes of Emily Gilley (10th), Elizabeth Burden (14th) and Christie Hermes (18th).

NU’s familiarity with the Scarlet is an advantage over most of the field, which comes from mostly southern and eastern states and has never seen the course.

“We know the golf course, we know what to expect,” coach Chris Regenberg said. “It’s very fortunate that the site is Ohio State.”

It’s fortunate, considering that the Cats must battle 10 of the nation’s 25 best for one of those 11 spots. The East regional has eight teams from the Mid-Atlantic/East District, eleven from the South and five from the Midwest.

No. 2 Duke, which has won six of nine events and sports five golfers in the top 20, will be in Columbus this week. So will No. 6 Georgia, No. 7 Louisiana State, No. 10 Wake Forest and No. 11 Auburn.

“This will definitely be a more intense atmosphere,” said Gilley, who qualified for last year’s regionals as an individual. “It’s on a higher level.”

From NU’s own Midwest District, Big Ten champion Purdue, at No. 21, is the highest ranked team. The Boilermakers set a Big Ten tournament record for lowest four-round score and beat the rest of the field by 29 strokes for the conference title.

The Cats were the last team to make it from the Midwest. They were fifth, behind Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan State and Indiana. All told, there will be six Big Ten teams at the regionals because Penn State plays in the Mid-Atlantic/East District.

NU is hoping for a good showing this weekend against some of the nation’s best — many of which it never sees in competition. But just qualifying for the regionals and doing something no Cats’ team has ever done before is an accomplishment that won’t be tarnished, no matter where they finish.

“What we’ve been doing this year will make us stronger four or five years from now,” Regenberg said.

Still, NU wouldn’t mind reaching all its goals in one shot. The Cats wouldn’t complain about playing into late May and making that trip to Oregon.

Since Big Tens, NU has done nothing but prepare to battle the Scarlet Course. Faced with holes too long to reach in regulation at the Lady Buckeye and too many up-and-downs for par, the Cats have learned from that experience. They’ve devoted much of the last week to their short games.

“We’ve done a lot of work,” Regenberg said. “I hope we peak at the right time.”