2004 Spring Season Preview
Jan. 29, 2004
Champaign, Ill. - Five letterwinners that helped lead the Illini women's golf team to NCAA Regionals the past two years have graduated. That means new leaders must step up on the 2003-04 edition of the Fighting Illini, and head coach Paula Smith will once again be counting on her seniors to provide that leadership.
"Marla (Cox) and Michelle (Carroll) learned a lot from last year's senior class and now they are in charge," Smith said. "They are the mainstays for this team and can give guidance to the players who haven't had consistent collegiate traveling experience. It's up to Marla and Michelle to lead the way, and they have eagerly taken on that responsibility."
Illinois had a number of bright spots during the 2003 fall season, and perhaps most impressive was the consistency from its top three golfers. After 14 rounds of golf in the fall, a total of just six strokes separated Cox, sophomore Megan Godfrey and Carroll.
It would be difficult to find a pair of more experienced seniors than Cox and Carroll, who have both been in the traveling lineup throughout their Illini careers. Cox led the Illini this past fall with a scoring average of 78.29. She was Illinois' top finisher at both the Lady Northern and the Shootout at The Legends.
"Marla has been working hard in practice, staying after the others leave and putting in extra time, "Smith said. "So it's no coincidence that her average was the lowest it's ever been this past fall, and I anticipate that she'll have an even better spring."
Fighting through injury, Carroll ranked third on the Illini with a fall stroke average of 78.71. She had a pair of Top-15 finishes, placing 12th at the Mary Fossum Invitational and 14th at the Pat Bradley Championship. Carroll had surgery at the end of the fall and is currently undergoing rehabilitation.
"Michelle showed a lot of determination in the fall, playing through pain," Smith said. "Her surgery went well, and she should be ready to go for our first spring tournament. She's been very conscientious with her rehab, and we anticipate a strong comeback because Michelle is mentally tough."
After playing in just four tournaments last season as a true freshman, Megan Godfrey had a breakout fall campaign, ranking second on the team with a 78.64 stroke average. She recorded two Top-10 finishes, placing ninth at the Badger Invitational and finishing the fall with a career-best seventh-place finish at the Pat Bradley Championship.
"Megan has performed extremely well in what has really been her first consistent traveling experience," Smith said. "She's a competitor, and I look for her to show improvement this spring as well."
Three other golfers traveled with the Illini during the fall in juniors Lyndsey Milligan and Megan O'Neal and freshman Meghan Naik. Each of those three carded a round in the 70s, and Smith said the challenge for those three now is to improve upon their consistency.
"The goal for Lyndsey, Megan and Meghan is to start shooting in the 70s on a regular basis. More consistency from those three will be important."
Also on the roster is a third senior, Carol Mayer, who has contributed to the team in a number of ways. She has won the team's spirit award, serves on the student-athlete advisory board and is a student representative on the athletic board. Mayer will travel with Illinois on its annual spring break trip in March.
Illinois will once again play a competitive schedule this spring. The team will begin with two tournaments that are new on the schedule, the East/West Rio Verde Invitational in Rio Verde, Ariz. (March 5-6) and a trip to the Virgin Islands for the St. Croix Collegiate Classic (March 13-15). Illinois will then defend its team title at the Baylor-Tapatio Springs Shootout in Boerne, Texas March 19-21.
The Orange and Blue host the annual Illini Spring Classic April 9-10 at Stone Creek Golf Club. The final tune-up before Big Tens is the Lady Boilermaker Invitational in West Lafayette, Ind. (April 17-18). Ohio State will host this year's Big Ten Championships April 23-25 on the Scarlet Course in Columbus, Ohio. The postseason includes NCAA Regionals May 6-8 and the NCAA Championships May 18-21.
"We're excited to get started this spring," Smith said. "The key to having a successful season is growing together as a group. We need to proceed together, playing each tournament one by one and taking care of the things that are in our control: preparation and execution."