Spring Sports Guide: Women’s Golf: Wildcats look to match, eclipse stellar 2013 campaign

Kevin Casey, Reporter

For Northwestern, the 2012-13 season could not have concluded at a much greater apex.

The Wildcats captured the Big Ten Championships title for the first time in school history in April and, one month later, produced a school-record 15th-place finish in the NCAA Championships. The team strutted away with a No. 25 national ranking.

How does a squad respond to such peaks? By discovering new heights the next year.

Following a productive fall and a strong start to the spring, NU stands at No. 17 in the country and appears intent on climbing further up the chain.

In the Cats’ first action after Winter Break, the team pieced together a third-place finish in the Lady Puerto Rico Classic. The difference between the squad’s first and fifth-place finishers was four strokes, and every member of the starting five posted a top-30 showing.

The utter lack of implosion allowed NU to place ahead of No. 7 Alabama and No. 15 North Carolina State.

And the result was no fluke.

“(That result) really just is an indication of the depth that we have on our team from top to bottom — very, very competitive and very solid players,” coach Emily Fletcher said. “Coming out of the winter, I was pleased with our performance starting in Puerto Rico.”

The Cats’ continuing rise in 2014 should really come as no surprise. Save Lauren Weaver, every member of last year’s record-setting squad returned. While Weaver finished her time at NU with one of the school’s most decorated careers, she slumped in her final season and finished fifth on the team in scoring average.

NU did retain two All-Big Ten First-Teamers. Hana Lee and Kaitlin Park returned this fall after finishing in the top two spots in team scoring average last season. Lee, a junior, has continued her strong play with two top-25 finishes, a top-10 and the team’s second-best scoring mark at 74.13 this season.

While Lee has remained steady, Park’s progress has been startling. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year posted a runner-up finish in her first event of the fall and took off from there. The sophomore finished first or second among her teammates four times in five events and leads the team in scoring average by nearly a full stroke.

Predictably, Park has big plans for the spring, praising coach Pat Goss and assistant coaches Beth Miller and David Inglis for pushing her to aim high. 

“Individually, I want to break my record from last year, my average score and things like that, and really boost up my ranking,” Park said. “Pat, Beth and David Inglis  have talked to me and said, ‘Hey, be that All-American.’ I’m shooting for that. I really want to be honored as an All-American, so that’s kind of my goal from now on.”

NU has benefited from avoiding sophomore slumps. Along with Park, Suchaya Tangkamolprasert and Elizabeth Szokol have backed up promising results from last season, with the former notching two top-20 finishes and the latter posting three top-30s.

Freshman Kacie Komoto adds yet another strong element to the squad, and she actually produced the team’s lowest score in Puerto Rico.

Apparently a break over winter only fueled her game.

“It was definitely different practicing indoors rather than outdoors,” Komoto said. “But my coaches were really good about making sure that we still practiced like we were outdoors. We still practiced our distances, so winter practice was really helpful.”

It’s now a question of what NU can do from here. The talent and experience is there, but can the Cats hold onto their top-20 position? Can they reach the top 10?

The big unknown is Devon Brown. The senior led the team in scoring average as a sophomore and was instrumental in the Big Ten Championships win last spring, but she has struggled thus far in her final year.

Her resurgence may be the last piece to the puzzle for NU. Still, Fletcher can feel how close her team is to being one of the few premier squads in the land.

“We just need to finish our rounds,” Fletcher said. “We’ve shown that we’re competitive with the top programs in the country, and we’re really close to beating some of those really top programs. But it’s not a matter of focusing on other teams, it’s kind of focusing on ourselves and finishing to our potential.”

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