Women's preview: Missouri Valley Conference

Missouri State's Kelsey Welber

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When Illinois State captured its fourth straight Missouri Valley women’s golf title last season, perhaps no team was more disappointed than Missouri State.

The Bears entered the conference championship on a roll, recording four consecutive top 4s. But a 15 over in Normal, Ill., resulted in a third-place finish at a rain-shortened conference tournament.

“Last year we felt like we were the best team and we went to the conference tournament and didn’t get it done,” Missouri State head coach Kevin Kane said. “We haven’t talked about it a lot, but we all know the deal. We all felt like we let it slip away. That’s certainly something that’s in the back of everybody’s minds.”

Heading into the spring, Missouri State is the conference’s top-ranked team at No. 89 in the Golfweek/Sagarin women’s collegiate team rankings – 32 spots better than Illinois State.

And the Bears played like it during the fall, notching three top 5s, including a win at the Payne Stewart Memorial in October. It was Missouri State’s first tournament victory since Oct. 18, 2009.

“No matter how well you’re playing, if you’re not getting wins, after a while it starts to sit in the back of your mind,” Kane said. “We had some questions marks going into the fall.

“Most of those got answered in a good way.”

Seniors Kelsey Welber and Catherine Dolan combined for six top 10s during the fall and have been mainstays atop the Bears’ lineup for four years. Welber had an eight-match top 10 streak snapped at the Alamo Invitational.

“They have defined our program,” Kane said. “They make things so much easier because I know I can count on them. You can’t control their scores all the time, but you know you’re going to get the effort. I really lean on them a lot to set an example for the team. They’re the best.”

But contributions from other golfers have pushed Missouri State to a new level.

Hermine Greyling took medalist honors at the Payne Stewart Memorial while Emma Clegg and Megan Thompson have also had success.

The Bears will enter the spring with lofty expectations. Missouri State will play in five events before the conference tournament in late April, including co-hosting the Rio Verde Invitational and traveling to Monterey, Calif., for the Del Monte Invitational.

“The Monterey Peninsula is one of the special places in golf and my kids haven’t been there before,” Kane said. “I think that would be pretty special to win that.”

But a win at the conference tournament would be even sweeter.

“I think there is some pressure on us because we’re expected to do well,” Kane said. “I still would rather it be that way than us being ranked 40 spots lower. If you’re ranked in that spot, that means you’re getting things accomplished.

“I feel really good about the spot we’re in.”

• • •

Top of the class: Missouri State

Best player this fall: Gretchen Huhnerkock, Wichita State

• • •

Past champions

2007: Southern Illinois

2008: Illinois State

2009: Illinois State

2010: Illinois State

2011: Illinois State

• • •

Conference capsules

Missouri State (Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: No. 89)

Bears won tournament for first time since 2009, taking the title at the Payne Stewart Memorial. They also notched a third, fifth and ninth. Kelsey Welber began the fall with three straight top 10 finishes.

Illinois State (No. 121)

Four-time defending conference champions struggled after starting the season with a first-place finish at the Redbird Invitational and a third-place finish at the Badger Invitational. Brianna Cooper finished inside the top 8 in three fall events.

Wichita State (No. 130)

Shockers placed fourth at the Fighting Camel Classic to end the fall. Junior Gretchen Huhnerkoch led the team with three top 10s, including a runner-up finish at the Fall Hoosier Invitational.

Southern Illinois (No. 132)

Salukis won two tournaments – the Cardinal Classic and SIUE Intercollegiate – and finished no worse than seventh in five fall events. Margaret Gilley and Cassie Rushing combined for five top 5s.

Northern Iowa (No. 139)

Capped fall with third-place finish at the Lady Red Wolf Classic in October.

Indiana State (No. 167)

Sycamores notched four top 5s in six fall tournaments, including a season-opening runner-up finish at the IU Fall Kickoff in September. Reece Feducia led the team in top 5s (four) and stroke average (76.1).

Bradley (No. 177)

Braves finished no better than seventh in five fall tournaments.

Drake (No. 198)

Bulldogs placed seventh twice in five fall events.

Creighton (No. 210)

Sixth-place finish at the Huskie Classic in October was highlight of fall for Bluejays.

Evansville (No. 235)

Purple Aces had fall-best seventh-place finish at the Butler Invitational in October.

Conference championship

April 22-24, CC of Terre Haute (Ind.)

Lance Ringler's prediction

Missouri State. This league has been dominated by Illinois State, but this year Kevin Kane's Missouri State squad is the clear favorite. A lot at stake here, only one team will get into the postseason - the league winner.

• • •

Complete coverage

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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