When Indiana’s Golfweek/Sagarin ranking dipped below 70 in February, head coach Clint Wallman called a team meeting.
“This is about wins and losses,” Wallman told them. “We need to really try to beat as many people as we can.”
The players took a look at their remaining schedule and mapped out a road to NCAA regionals. The Hoosiers went on to finish second at the Briar’s Creek Invitational, first at the Lady Boilermaker Classic and T-2 at the Big Ten Championship. They were the last team to make it into regionals and made the most of it, advancing to the NCAA Championship for the first time in a dozen years.
The Hoosiers finished sixth at the NCAA East Lansing Regional, again claiming the final spot by finishing three strokes clear of host Michigan State.
“I didn’t sprain my finger,” joked Wallman, when asked how often he checked live scoring.
Three Midwest schools advanced out East Lansing, Mich., with Kent State pacing the field at 4-under 860. Illinois placed fifth.
Indiana senior Erin Harper led the way for Wallman’s squad with a 2-under 70. Kari Bellville, a Notre Dame transfer who didn’t compete for two years due to injury, overcame an early triple-bogey to post a score that counted for her team.
“One thing about this team that has been different,” said Wallman, “is that they have a lot of grit, and when they got off, they didn’t panic. They kept going.”
Next stop: The Blessings Golf Course in Fayetteville, Ark.
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Illinois began the 2018-19 season with one big goal: make history.
On the strength of a 5-under 67 from junior Tristyn Nowlin, Illinois advanced to the NCAA Championship for the first time in program history. Last year at the Madison regional, the Illini finished in seventh place, one stroke out of a playoff.
Nowlin underwent surgery on her thumb over the offseason and missed the first three tournaments of the spring season, where the Illini finished 14th-3rd-11th. Her first tournament back was the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, the start of a three-week stretch that included four events. The closing round of regional action was an ideal time for Nowlin to put together her best round of the season.
“It gave her a whole new appreciation for things,” said head coach Renee Slone of Nowlin’s Augusta takeaway. “The entire experience gave her a sense of gratitude and a lot of motivation.”
After making history, the Illini boarded a bus for the long ride home. In the midst of celebrating they’ll have to study. There are final exams tomorrow.
Chip shots: Kent State held on for a wire-to-wire victory at Forest Akers. The Golden Flashes peppered the back nine with 11 birdies. Junior Pimnipa Panthong led the team with a 2-under 70. Arizona, the 2018 NCAA champions, finished one shot back. UCLA and top-seeded Stanford rounded out the top six. … UCLA’s Patty Tavatanakit topped the individual leaderboard at 8-under 208, four shots ahead of Panthong. … Host Michigan State didn’t make it as a team but two Spartans advanced as individuals – Haylin Harris and Allyson Geer-Park. Xavier’s Mikayla Fitzpatrick was the third player to advance to Fayetteville, Ark., on her own.