Senior tri-captain Laurin Kanda leads the Illini into action this spring.
Jan. 27, 2003
Champaign, Ill. - Experienced ... Confident ... Talented ... Mature ... Motivated ...
These are just a few of the words that coach Paula Smith uses to describe the 2002-03 Fighting Illini, her 25th squad as Illinois head coach. Illinois is coming off its highest Big Ten finish in seven years and its first-ever postseason appearance as a team. The Illini continued to make progress during the fall, playing well in every tournament and carding some record-breaking rounds. With a senior-laden team and seven letterwinners on the roster, the Illini are eager to take the next step this spring and achieve their ultimate goal of advancing to the NCAA Championship.
"I believe competing at regionals last season was really an eye-opening experience for our team," Smith said. "It was something that we had been working toward for a long time and that was great for last year. But this year our team has bigger things in mind. Every tournament, every practice and every workout they are motivated by their goal of qualifying for nationals."
Team unity and togetherness has been stressed from the beginning of the season, as the team's first function was a trip to St. Joseph, Ill. to visit Illinois alum John Wright. After playing on his par-3 course, the Illini concluded the evening by receiving a motivational speech from Wright.
Illinois finished among the top six teams in every tournament during the fall, highlighted by placing third at the Pat Bradley Championship and fourth at the Mary Fossum Invitational and Mission Inn Fall Classic. The Illini also shot three rounds below 300 during the fall. Illinois shattered the school record with a score of 291 at the Pat Bradley Championship. The Illini also tied the second-lowest round in school history with a 296 at the Shootout at The Legends and carded a 299 at the Mary Fossum Invite.
Illinois will have one of the most experienced teams in the conference in 2003, with its entire traveling roster from the past two seasons returning. Leading the way is Illinois' senior class of Laurin Kanda, Renata Young, Stephanie Cheney and Carmel Sielicki.
Kanda, one of Illinois' tri-captains, has led the Illini in scoring average for three straight years and enters the spring season with a career stroke average of 77.66, the second-best career average in school history. She again led the Illini in stroke average this past fall (76.71) and was Illinois' top finisher in three tournaments, highlighted by a third place finish at the Pat Bradley Championship.
Young, another tri-captain, was second behind Kanda in stroke average as a junior and also this past fall when she averaged a 76.86. Young registered two Top 10 finishes and shot a career-low round of 2-under par 70 at the Pat Bradley Championship.
Cheney played the best golf of her Illini career during the fall, finishing among the top 11 at three tournaments and owning a stroke average of 77.29. She was Illinois' top finisher at two tournaments.
Sielicki, the final tri-captain, has participated in a number of tournaments for the Illini including the past two Big Ten Championships. She played in three of five tournaments during the fall. Illinois' fifth senior, Mari Walters, will be student-teaching during the upcoming semester and will devote all of her time to teaching, electing not to compete this spring.
Juniors Marla Cox and Michelle Carroll have been mainstays in the traveling lineup throughout their careers. Cox was third on the team in stroke average last season and fourth during the fall at 79.21. Her top performance of the fall was a 14th place finish at the Lady Northern.
Carroll had a breakthrough season last spring, ranking second on the team in stroke average. She was fifth this past fall at 79.64 and recorded a Top 10 finish with her ninth place showing at the Mary Fossum Invite.
The Illini had five letterwinners average 79 or better during the fall. In addition to the returning letterwinners, Illinois welcomes back Megan O'Neal, Lyndsey Milligan, Johanna Ballard and Carol Mayer to the mix, while adding a pair of in-state freshmen in Megan Godfrey and Carolyn Collins.
The Illini begin play earlier than in past seasons, as the first tournament calls for a trip to Miami, Fla. on Feb. 10-11. The Illini return to Florida at the end of February for the Central District Challenge (Feb. 24-25) and in March will be in the state of Texas for the prestigious "Mo" Memorial (March 3-4), their spring break trip and the Baylor-Tapatio Springs Shootout (March 23-25). Illinois returns to Big Ten country in April, competing at the Lady Boilermaker Invite April 12-13 before hosting the annual Illini Spring Classic April 18-19 at Stone Creek Golf Club. The Big Ten Championships will be held at the University of Iowa on April 25-27. The postseason schedule is slated for regional competition May 8-10 and the NCAA Championships May 20-23.
"This team is very eager to compete and show what it can do," Smith said. "I think that our seniors have provided a great deal of leadership, the upperclassmen have really taken the underclassmen under their wings and helped them along. I feel like this team has really matured and I love the family atmosphere we have. It should be an exciting spring!"