Women’s Golf: Wildcats place third in Lady Buckeye tournament

Kevin Casey, Reporter

The conditions may have been less than ideal in the Columbus, Ohio, area over the weekend with cool temperatures, significant cloud cover and shifting winds, but Northwestern remained steady throughout.

In a top-heavy field at the Lady Buckeye Invitational, played Saturday and Sunday, the Wildcats held their own early on and didn’t veer from that position the rest of the way. Only No. 14 Purdue and No. 27 Michigan State stood ahead of No. 30 NU after the first round, and that pecking order held constant as the Cats finished in third place by themselves.

The team ended the tournament 6 shots behind Purdue and 13 behind Michigan State, but for coach Emily Fletcher, defeat to such high-level opponents did not necessarily mean a failed effort.

“We played with those two teams on the final day,” Fletcher said. “We had an opportunity first-hand to see our top two opponents. Even though we didn’t win, we held our own, and we realized that these teams were not much better than us. We can compete with them.”

Positive sentiments aside, no coach can ever be fully satisfied with a team’s performance after a loss. Fletcher’s main goal was victory, so a third-place finish meant there was still room for improvement.

“We have to do a little better around the greens,” Fletcher said. “We gave away some shots there. There are still some scoring opportunities we’re not taking advantage of.”

Fletcher can at least take solace in the fact that her team leader is continuing to find a spark in her game. Senior Lauren Weaver failed to finish in the top 40 in her last three full tournaments before the calendar hit March, but then something changed. She has posted a tie for 34th and a tie for 39th in her maiden two events since the beginning of March  and then went a step further at the Lady Buckeye.

In Columbus, Weaver finished tied for 18th, her first top-20 finish since September, and did so despite a trying opening-round 81.

Fletcher said her senior fought hard, and Weaver furthered the sentiment.

“Unfortunately, my game didn’t hold up well in tough conditions in the first round,” Weaver said. “But I had a lot of confidence in my game going into this tournament, and I was able to grind it out and get it back as the tournament went on.”

The much-discussed younger component of the team flexed its muscle as well, only with a somewhat different cast of characters. Sophomore Hana Lee finished 10th, her fifth top-10 of the season, but instead of freshman Kaitlin Park at her side, the freshman duo of Elizabeth Szokol and Suchaya Tangkamolprasert buffered Lee’s efforts. Szokol came in two shots higher than Lee, good enough to tie for 13th place, and Tangkamolprasert put together a ninth place showing.

It was Tangkamolprasert’s first finish anywhere in the top 35 this year, and she said she was happy to play a big role in the Cats’ performance.

“Being around good players made me want to practice more and go out there and compete at a high level,” the freshman said. “It’s more fun when you make a solid contribution to the team.”

Overall, the Cats are in a good position as they prepare to hit the stretch run of the season. The team is close to getting the formula just right, it’s just a matter of execution.

“It’s mostly all there for us,” Weaver said. “We just have to put it together.”