Big Ten title to be decided

The men’s and women’s golf teams are set to kick off the Big Ten tournament today.

Brian Deutsch

The Minnesota men’s and women’s golf seasons head into the homestretch this weekend as both teams compete in their respective Big Ten Championships.

The men will head to Ohio State, and the Gophers will try to rekindle past success on the Ohio State Golf Club Scarlet Course, where Minnesota captured the 2002 NCAA Championship.

“We’re one of the favorites, and this is a difficult course,” said senior Bronson La’Cassie. “Luckily, on a tough course, the better team usually wins.”

The Big Ten tournament starts with two rounds today, a third round Saturday and the final round on Sunday.

The last time Minnesota won the Big Ten Championships was in 2003, one year before La’Cassie, the team’s eldest member, joined the squad.

This year, Minnesota will compete for its seventh conference championship in program history, and the Gophers will try to improve on last year’s fourth place finish.

La’Cassie and fellow senior Niall Turner will try to lead Minnesota back to a perch atop the Big Ten.

Joining them in the hunt for the first conference tournament win in four years will be junior Clayton Rask, sophomore Victor Almstrom and freshman Ben Pisani.

“(A Big Ten Championship) would be awesome, especially for the seniors,” coach Brad James said. “It’s something we strive for every year.”

And the Gophers are bringing a full swing of momentum with them into Columbus.

The team lost a tie-breaker for first place to Stanford at the U.S. Intercollegiate earlier this month, while La’Cassie and Turner were both named Big Ten Golfer of the Week in April.

Of the 11 conference contenders, only No. 26 Michigan State, No. 29 Minnesota, No. 33 Northwestern and No. 49 Purdue are ranked in the top 50 by Golfweek.

But being one of the top ranked programs coming into the tournament hasn’t gone to La’Cassie’s head.

“Every year, we have come in as favorites, and we’ve just played poorly,” he said. “(Winning the Big Ten) this year is something the team wants to do.”

According to James, the Gophers won’t have to win the conference competition to advance – they already have a bid for the NCAA Regionals in May.

Women travel to familiar course

Unlike the men’s team, only one thing can extend the season of the Minnesota women’s team: a win at the Big Ten Championships.

The women will travel to East Lansing, Mich., where the Gophers will compete on the Forest Akers West Golf Course, a location where they, too, have past experience.

Earlier this season, Minnesota finished 12th at the Lady Northern, also at Forest Akers.

Although interim coach Kristine Wessinger has modest goals for her team, she is looking to improve on that performance.

“At this point, I just want the team to go in there and turn a few heads and surprise some people,” Wessinger said. “If we have fun and play our game, we should be able to have a good tournament.”

The Gophers will compete for just the second Big Ten Championship in program history. The first team title came in 1989, while Minnesota finished 11th at last year’s conference event.

The tournament begins today with two rounds, while Saturday and Sunday will each host a lone round of play.

Senior Samantha Braschler, juniors

Emily Brand and Kelli Berns, sophomore Young Na Lee and freshmen Christine Herzog and Leslie Grabeman will compete for the Gophers.