Women’s Golf: Wildcats ecstatic as they prepare for NCAA Championships

Kevin Casey, Reporter

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It took a stellar final-round charge, but Northwestern will compete in the NCAA Championships — and the magnitude of the event is not lost on the squad.

The Wildcats will start competition in the four-day, 72-hole event Tuesday, teeing it up at team collegiate golf’s biggest event for just the second time in school history.

Held at the University of Georgia Golf Course in Athens, Ga., the tournament is a 24-team affair that highlights some of the best squads the country has to offer in women’s golf.

As coach Emily Fletcher noted, simply qualifying for such an event is the dream she had for this team from the beginning.

“Making it to Nationals was really what we set out to do all along, it’s what we set our sights on at the start of the season,” Fletcher said. “It feels great to make it here, there’s a great sense of satisfaction.”

That being said, NU isn’t going to treat its stay in Georgia as a vacation. The 24th-ranked Cats may not be the best in this field, but the team is not the lowest-ranked squad and is loaded with young talent.

The underclassmen tandem of freshman Kaitlin Park and sophomore Hana Lee played its way into All-Big Ten first team selections, with Park also winning the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award.

When those two do not perform to their abilities, as was the case at NCAA Regionals, the duo of Suchaya Tangkamolprasert and Elizabeth Szokol is there to pick up the slack.

The freshmen posted the two best scores for the team at Regionals and have combined for four top-15 finishes this spring.

Despite such stellar play from the team’s youth, Park made it clear who will be motivating the team to play well at Nationals.

“This tournament is a really big opportunity and I’m so glad I’m able to experience it as a freshman,” Park said. “But I really want to make this tournament memorable for Lauren Weaver because it will be her first and last NCAA Championships.”

Weaver will be the only senior to start for the Cats down in Athens. Although this season has been one long struggle with her game, Weaver remains the team’s leader heading into the final tournament of the year.

The senior has been doing better on the golf course lately and is excited to carry over her strong performance to Nationals.

“Right now I’m playing the best I’ve played all year. I’ve really gotten my driver under control, which I had a lot of trouble with in the fall,” Weaver said. “To hit the ball straight, it takes pressure off my putting, and I’m not playing for pars as much, I’m playing for birdies.”

For Weaver, though, the team’s foray into Georgia is not just another tournament. It’s a culmination of her four years at NU.

“Honestly, if someone told me freshman year that I would be playing Nationals as a senior I wouldn’t have believed them,” Weaver said. “But it’s awesome, I couldn’t have wished for anything else. It’s a real opportunity to showcase our team and show that we can compete on a national level.”

Fletcher still wants the team to play to the best of its abilities, whether that be a first place finish, a 10th or a 15th. No matter what happens in Georgia, NU’s season will be labeled a success.

“It feels like an accomplishment to make it to NCAA Championships and, in my mind, we have everything to gain and nothing to lose here,” Fletcher said. “It’s our time to really go out, play with some confidence and enthusiasm, just enjoy being out there and have some fun.”