Age, wisdom are U’s greatest assets

Jim Schortemeyer

Age and wisdom are as valuable as youth and skill — or so hopes the Minnesota women’s golf team.
Experience is one thing the Gophers aren’t short on this season. Of the five golfers Minnesota takes to each tournament, four are seniors.
“Obviously the experience is a good thing,” senior Kristi Weichert said. “You’re less intimidated. When you’re young, you’re just trying to get on the team and you can get intimidated.”
The seniors have played well so far, leading the Gophers to wins in two of their past three tournaments.
“I feel like the team is just getting stronger,” Weichert said.
There’s been other evidence to support that improvement. Two weeks ago the Gophers won the Myrtle Beach Classic over three Big Ten rivals.
Minnesota’s early season success has come thanks to its depth. At one tournament this spring, Minnesota had all five of its golfers in the top 10. And it’s been generally the same Gophers going low.
“We’ve had the same people on the road,” senior Michelle Ballou said. “And the four seniors playing help the chemistry. The chemistry is better than before and that’s helped by the fact there’s no number one player on the team.”
There has been no consistent top finisher for the Gophers; Minnesota’s golfers tend to finish in groups. Weichert and Ballou are mainstays in the lineup, as are fellow seniors Donna Boom and Melanie Lepp. Sophomore Jenny Bruun is the only non-senior, but has shown she’s capable of playing at the same pace as the veterans.
But seniority and depth can only carry a team so far. While the Gophers have won two events, they haven’t consistently faced strong competition. In the Big Ten, strong competition is synonymous with Indiana and Ohio State.
The Hoosiers and Buckeyes are the traditional Big Ten powerhouses. But even the presumption that they’ll be atop the leaderboard has come under fire.
“I think it is wide open, which is kind of cool,” coach Kathy Williams said. “I guess it’s anyone’s game. That’s why you’ve seen ups and downs in the results.”
The Big Ten is almost a toss-up this season. Michigan State won the Big Ten preview meet last fall over Indiana, then proceeded to get blown out of the water by Minnesota at the Midwest Championships in February.
And if there’s any meet that should give the Gophers hope, it’s the results from the Midwest Championships in late February. Minnesota won the event by 14 strokes over Indiana and seven other Big Ten teams.
But that was the first meet of the year, and Minnesota has yet to play 18th-ranked Ohio State this spring. The Gophers might have an outside chance at winning the Big Ten title, but they say they have other goals in mind.
“Really, our major goal is to advance in the NCAA East Regional,” Ballou said. “It’s realistic, but we’ve got to play really well.”
With the Big Ten championships just three weeks away, a “who knows” attitude has prevailed based on the Gophers’ two wins this spring.
“It’s definitely given us more confidence,” Weichert said. “I think golf is mostly mental. Part of the reason teams like Ohio State and Indiana are good is they know they’re good. They have that confidence.”
Minnesota’s newfound aplomb isn’t reflected in the collegiate golf rankings. There’s a hogpile of Big Ten teams in the middle of the rankings, but Minnesota isn’t in it. Ohio State tops the throng at 18th, ahead of Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue and Penn State. Minnesota isn’t in the top 50.
The Gophers’ win two weeks ago at the Myrtle Beach Classic has led Williams to think that Minnesota could get on something of a roll.
“That was a big win for us,” she said. “We had a poor fall. It was disappointing for us, but we’re putting together a great spring.”
Spring into this
That strong spring will continue Saturday at the Indiana Invitational. Minnesota will face its toughest assignment of the spring, with nine of the 11 Big Ten schools represented.
More importantly, the Gophers will face Ohio State for the first time. Williams has been doing whatever it takes to get the team ready.
“We were outside (Monday) hitting in the rain,” she said. “I was out there too, trying to lead by example.”