Freshman Hailey Koschmann leads a young Illini squad into the spring season.
Feb. 16, 2009
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - In her third year, head coach Renee Slone guides seven freshmen, one sophomore and one senior into a spring season featuring three new tournaments for a youthful Fighting Illini squad. Five fall tournaments allowed the young team to transition into collegiate golf, while providing experience and insight for the future. The team's fresh faces are determined to improve with every tournament by utilizing the valuable knowledge gained throughout the fall.
"We didn't get the results we were looking to achieve during the fall, but we learned a great deal and will certainly be able to move forward," Slone said. "It has actually been very beneficial because everyone now understands the commitment that is going to be necessary in all areas of collegiate golf."
Freshmen Hailey Koschmann (77.47) and Samantha Sloan (77.93) led the team in stroke average during the fall followed by freshmen Abby Cotter (79.33), Nora Lucas (79.55) and senior Nancy Featherstone (79.75). Koschmann's opening round 69 at the Badger Invitational highlighted the fall season and tied the fourth-lowest round in school history.
Sophomore Raquel Hopton looks to repeat her success from last spring in which she tallied two top-five finishes in Illinois' two tournament victories at the 2008 Gainesville Shootout III and Illini Spring Classic. Freshmen Maureen Liddy, Katelin Dilger and Kaitlyn Wampler round out the team roster.
"Each team member developed individual goals for the upcoming season, which will provide a solid foundation for the team goals that we will build upon each week," Slone said.
Illinois notched one team goal before the start of the spring season with a 7-6 victory in the first-ever Illinois Challenge, an exhibition match against Illinois State on January 24. The Challenge was played in Naples, Fla., at the 6,163-yard, par-72 Hideout Golf Club and featured both four-ball and singles matches between the two teams.
"This was a great event for us to transition back into competitive golf as we prepared for the spring season," Slone said.
Illinois springs into tournament action at the season-opening Islander Spring Classic in Corpus Christi, Texas. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi hosts the 54-hole event at the Corpus Christi Country Club on Feb. 23-24. Slone believes this event, which the Illini have never participated in, will be a good warm-up to set the tone for the season and shift the team back into tournament competition.
Illinois returns to Florida for the inaugural Eagle Landing Invitational hosted by James Madison on March 9-10. The Illini travel to Orange Park, Fla., and tee it up for 54 holes at the Eagle Landing Golf Course.
"This is a brand new tournament with a solid field that will be played on a great golf course, so we are looking forward to it," Slone said.
In order to expand the variety of competition, Slone slated a different spring break trip from years past. The Illini head to Junction City, Ore., to take part in the Duck Invitational for the first time in team history. Oregon hosts the 54-hole event at the Shadow Hills Country Club on March 23-24.
"It's a little different for us to head west, but I thought this was a great opportunity to play against some teams we don't normally see," Slone said. "It's a quality field that will be a challenge for us, and then we are looking forward to practicing on some of the spectacular courses in that part of the country."
Illinois returns to the Midwest to close out the regular season at two familiar tournaments. The Orange and Blue eye a third consecutive top-three finish when they compete in the Indiana Invitational at the Otter Creek Golf Course on April 6-7.
"The IU Invite will be a good test with a great field," Slone said. "We will see some Big Ten teams there, which will prepare us for the Big Ten Championship."
A week and a half later, the Illini travel to Columbus, Ohio for the Lady Buckeye Invitational on April 18-19. It will be held at the OSU Scarlet Golf Course, which Slone calls "one of the most challenging courses in collegiate golf." This tournament will be the team's final preparation before the Big Ten Championship.
Purdue hosts this year's conference tournament in West Lafayette, Ind., from April 24-26. The Illini vie for the Big Ten title at the Kampen Course, which they also played in the fall at the Lady Northern.
"We learned quite a bit about the course from our experience at the Lady Northern," Slone said. "Short game and course management are extremely important on that course, which requires a lot of patience. It's the type of golf course that the more you play it, the more confidence you get, so having played it in the fall will certainly help the team in the spring."