The Big Ten’s best story is one of increasing depth. Michigan State or Purdue has won eight of the past 10 conference championships (including last year, when Purdue tied Northwestern for the team title), but this year, there are several teams with a fighting chance.
Following their first conference title in program history, the Wildcats played their way into the top 20 in Golfweek’s rankings this fall. Northwestern scored three top-5 finishes in its four fall events, an effort led by sophomore Kaitlin Park.
Park, junior Hanna Lee and freshman Kacie Komoto combined to make a reliable scoring trio for Northwestern. The Wildcats lined up against the top teams in the country at their own Windy City Collegiate Classic (fifth) and Stanford Intercollegiate (seventh). They have a tough schedule to complete the season.
Michigan State, at No. 24, is right behind Northwestern. The team won its own Mary Fossum Invitational to start the fall but struggled on the road. It could have been a trying season for the Spartans, what with the graduation last spring of Caroline Powers, one of Michgian State’s all-time best players. In her absence, senior Liz Nagel has emerged as one of the best stories of the season, going first, T-5, T-14, T-4 over the fall. She leads the Big Ten individually, with a No. 19 Golfweek ranking.
Ohio State (No. 33), Wisconsin (No. 38) and Illinois (No. 39) also have a viable shot at winning Big Ten gold. My eye is on Wisconsin, a team that authored perhaps the best postseason story of last spring – a rally into the top 8 at the NCAA Central Regional to make its first NCAA Championship in program history.
As for Purdue? The Boilermaker roster was short this fall, with only Aurora Kan left from the team that finished third at the NCAA Women’s Championship last spring. Beyond the Big Ten Championship, the best story at Purdue is in its national championship history. Purdue is one of three NCAA Division I teams to have qualified for the NCAA finals every year since 2000. Its top-10 streak dates to 2006. It will be something to watch in the spring.