Four years ago, Illinois coach Renee Slone herded five freshmen off to their first collegiate tournament. The Illini finished 10th that week at the Chip-N Club Invitational, but it laid the groundwork for a steady climb up the ranks of a powerful Big Ten Conference.
“Their freshman year, we actually had seven freshmen come in,” head coach Slone said of this year’s graduating class. “I think the experience they have gained in the past three and a half years of traveling to tournament after tournament after tournament has been so very beneficial, and just semester by semester we have progressed.”
The Illini hit the midway point of the season ranked No. 57 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, and Slone attributes that higher-than-normal ranking to experience and comfort. Illinois contended in three of five events this fall, finishing runner-up in two and third in another.
“We know what we need to do and this spring we’re excited to go out and get it done,” Slone said.
Despite playing at a cold-weather school, Illinois players also got experience during winter break as several ventured south to play competitive amateur events or scout venues for spring tournaments.
Nora Lucas, one of the strong Illinois senior contingent, finished in the top half of both the Dixie Women’s Amateur (T-31) and the Harder Hall Women’s Invitational (11th). She shot a final-round 68, the lowest round of the day, at the Harder Hall.
Lucas is kind of like the glue that keeps this team together – and smiling.
“With Nora, you see she’s got a pretty big personality, keeps it light, lot of fun, great jokester so she definitely helps keep the mood light for the team,” Sloan said. “If things are getting a little too stressful or a little too serious, she can take that edge off, which is great.”
Call it crazy glue.
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Top of the class: Ohio State
Best player in the fall: Caroline Powers, Michigan State
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2007: Michigan State
2011: Michigan State
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Wondering how your favorite conference is shaping up headed into the spring season? Who is our favorite to pick up the automatic qualifier? Check out our conference-by-conference break down with our complete coverage page here.
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