The Wildcats are gearing up for a postseason run, and the team hopes the first step toward a strong finish will take place in Indiana.
Fresh off a third-place showing at the Lady Buckeye Invitational, Northwestern will head to the Hoosier State to take part in the Big Ten Championships, which will commence Friday and finish two days later. The tournament will be played at the Donald Ross Course at French Lick Resort, one of the most well-respected and toughest courses in the state.
Coach Emily Fletcher said she believes a special focus on the short game is imperative to success this week.
“The greens at French Lick have a lot of undulations, so we’re going to have to make sure our speed is good,” Fletcher said. “If you’re off there, you can leave yourself a lot of three- and four-footers, and that is never good.”
Putting surfaces will not be the only difficulty, though. The tournament will likely be a grind-it-out par-fest, something that is never easy for a team to deal with. Fletcher understands the challenge and posits a simple concept to counteract it.
“It tests you mentally, it tests your resolve and your grit,” Fletcher said. “When conditions are tough, you have to stay in the present and not think about the bogey or worse you just made.”
The field will also be quite similar to what the Cats faced at the Lady Buckeye. Augusta State, Kent State and Youngstown State will be replaced by the three Big Ten squads not in Columbus last week, but NU’s main competition will remain the same.
The No. 29 Cats will be looking to take down the other three Big Ten teams ranked in the top 50: No. 36 Ohio State, No. 24 Michigan State and No. 15 Purdue.
NU only beat one of those three — Ohio State — at the Lady Buckeye, yet Fletcher came out of the event convinced her team can compete with the best the Big Ten has to offer.
Her optimism makes sense. A deep rotation of young talent has emerged in the spring. It’s not only sophomore Hana Lee and freshman Kaitlin Park who can pump out a good performance. Freshmen Suchaya Tangkamolprasert and Elizabeth Szokol have also shown flashes of solid play.
Senior Lauren Weaver also appears to get her game in shape just in time for the stretch run, as she posted her second top-20 finish of the season at the Lady Buckeye.
The senior agreed that the team’s work with the flatstick will be crucial at French Lick.
“The short game is the biggest thing for us this week,” Weaver said. “We have to make those key par and birdie putts if we intend to perform to our potential.”
NU has yet to win a Big Ten title, so a victory this Sunday would surely be sweet.
The team has been in a good place lately; just a bit of improvement is needed to put the Cats over the top.
“We had some good in our last event,” Fletcher said. “We just need to finish a little better and we should perform to our potential.”