Shaky performance in spring cripples U

by Ryan Schuster

Before the start of the fall season, the Gophers women’s golf team sat down and made out a list of goals for the upcoming year. Among them was placing in the top two at the Big Ten championships and making it to the NCAA East Regionals. Now, a half a year later, both are in jeopardy.
The No. 17 Gophers started their fall season off on a good note, placing in the top 10 in all five meets and winning their last three invitationals.
“It was one of our best fall seasons in the history of women’s golf,” Gophers coach Kathy Williams said.
The spring season, however, has not been quite as kind. Minnesota has failed to make the top three in two of the three meets in which it has competed, and is considered to be a long shot to make it to regionals.
“The only way we could possibly get in would be through the backdoor or something,” senior Carolyn Klecker said. “It would just be probably getting in by luck.”
Missouri is currently in the third and final playoff slot in the NCAA’s Midwest Region, one place ahead of the Gophers. Minnesota has failed to beat any of the three teams (Ohio State, Indiana and Missouri) that are ranked ahead of it in its own region during the last two meets, the Peggy Kirk Bell Invitational and the Indiana Invitational.
According to Williams, who was on the NCAA selection committee last season, the four major criteria the NCAA looks for are head-to-head competition, common opponents, scoring average and performance against top 20 teams. Missouri holds a decided edge over Minnesota in all four categories, especially head-to-head competition, where the Tigers are 2-0 against Minnesota this spring.
The NCAA field will be announced on April 28, four days before the start of the 1997 Big Ten championships. As a result, Big Ten teams like Minnesota, Ohio State and Indiana will not be able to use their scores at the conference meet to help them qualify. Schools like Missouri, which play in conferences with earlier championships, will.
“If we would win, it would mean we just win Big Tens, not that we move on,” junior Amy Dahle said. “I think (the Big Tens) should be one of the deciding factors.”
The Gophers were in good position to make the NCAA field after taking second in the nine-team Midwest Classic on Feb. 21-22 in Sun City, Ariz., to start their spring season. But in their last two meets, they have faltered a bit.
Minnesota finished ninth out of 15 teams at the Peggy Kirk Bell Invitational on March 11-12 in Winter Park, Fla., and tied for fourth out of 17 in the Indiana Invitational last weekend. It was the team’s performance at Indiana, however, that took the most from its chances to earn a NCAA birth.
“None of us were ecstatic about our individual performances,” Klecker said. “We know we all could have played that course a lot better than we did. As a team, I think we played about the worst that we could have.”
Minnesota played in a blustery 30 mph wind both Saturday and Sunday in Bloomington, Ind., at the Indiana Invitational.
In fact, many of the team’s problems this spring can be partially attributed to the weather. The Gophers have only been able to practice twice outdoors at the Les Bolstad Golf Course, forcing them to spend much of their time between meets at the indoor Second Season Golf Center.
“The golf dome can only do so much,” Williams said. “We’re at a point right now where we just have to play.”
The two major disadvantages of practicing indoors are that the team has not been able to spend much time on its putting or approach shots at the green. Most of the other teams Minnesota has been competing against are from warmer climates, allowing them more outdoor practice time.
Wisconsin is the only other Midwestern team that has had major difficulties getting outside to practice this season. Ohio State and Indiana, the top two seeded teams in the Gophers’ region have both been practicing outside since February.
“It’s hard knowing that we’re not on the same playing ground,” Williams said. “We are way behind.”
Despite the obstacles the team has had to overcome just to be able to practice, and the probability that they won’t make the playoffs, this group could be one of the most talented and hard working in school history.
Williams believes that this year’s squad has the potential to be the best team that she has coached in her six years at Minnesota.
Five letterwinners returned from last season, bringing depth, experience and talent to the team.
Dahle, the lone Gopher to compete at the 1996 East Regionals, has the lowest career and season average on the team. The Red Lake Falls, Minn., native finished fifth at last year’s Big Tens and was named all-conference.
Klecker, a fifth-year senior, has been one of the most improved members on the team during the last two years. The former walk-on is the most experienced golfer on the team and hopes her maturity will translate into a repeat of the trip she made to regionals during her sophomore year.
“Amy and Carolyn have pretty much been our anchors all season,” Williams said. “Each week the top two spots on the team has changed hands between them.”
The duo is joined by sophomore Melanie Lepp, senior Cathy Lindblad and junior Keri Sawvell, the rest of the Gophers’ starting squad.
“We have five or six number-one players,” Klecker said. “I think this is the best team I’ve been on.”
What separates this squad from the others isn’t ability or experience, but heart.
“One through 15 really wants it bad,” Williams said. “I’ve had other teams that just showed up. You can’t teach motivation or desire, and with this group, you don’t have to.”
Maybe some things are more important than goals.