Women’s golf set for MAC Championships

By Tom Burton

DeKALB — The women’s golf team completed its regular season and is set to host the 2018 Mid-American Conference Championships Friday at Naperville Country Club.

The Huskies finished the spring portion of the season with five top-five finishes in six events, including a runner-up finish March 27 at the Arkansas State Invitational and a third place showing March 13 at the Bradley Spring Invitational.

Head Coach Kim Kester said she is happy with how the team has performed despite adversity this spring and looks forward to hosting the MAC Championships.

“We’re hosting it in our backyard, so hopefully we bring people out from the area,” Kester said. “It’s been a crazy spring weatherwise because no matter where we’re at, it hasn’t been good weather. Overall, I’m very positive about the weekend and looking forward to it.”

The Huskies will likely be dealing with similar conditions as they have all spring, as the field will be dealing with weather conditions in the 40s for a vast majority of the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.

“We’re used to [those conditions],” Kester said. “This past weekend we played in probably the worst conditions we’ve seen in the last couple years. Just put your layers on, buckle down and just go.”

Although NIU is hosting the event, the team has not been able to get a look at the course, as players are not allowed to play the course after Nov. 11 before the championships, according to NCAA regulations.

A bright spot for the Huskies as of late has been the play of junior Brielle Ward, who earned a first-place and a second-place finish in her last three events, including winning the Bradley Invitational March 13 for the second consecutive season.

“She’s peaking at the right time of the season,” Kester said. “As a coach, that’s what you like to see — bringing your best into the conference championships. She’s just playing her game.”

Ward said she has some experience playing the Naperville Country Club, and her recent success has made her more confident in her game.

“I think that has helped me a lot,” Ward said. “It’s helped me realize that no matter how bad or well I’m hitting it, I can get around the course. As long as I stay calm, I think I can do well this week.”

Kester said Ward has been training with her swing coach in Texas, and she has changed the path of her backswing and is playing a new ball flight.

Another player joining Ward in the conference championships will be sophomore Isabella Samudio, who will play in her second career Mid-American Conference tournament after shooting a school record score of 67 Saturday at the Lady Boilermaker Invitational.

“We’re very happy with where she’s at,” Kester said. “Everyone is starting to get their best going. All it takes is three [good] rounds for us, and we’re in it.”

NIU also has two freshmen who have produced consistently for the team all season — Lauren Ingle and Sofia Gomez Enriquez Riart. Kester complimented Ingle’s play this season and expects the freshman star to play with confidence.

“Lauren is one of those athletes that goes out there and gets the job done,” Kester said. “I haven’t seen many nerves from her at all this year. She grinds it out and gets her pars when she can and gets her birdies when she can.”

The lineup for NIU will consist of Ward, Samudio, Ingle and junior Kelly Anderson. Kester said the final starting spot will go to Riart or senior Lexi Salberg based on a Thursday qualifying round.

“All of them have had great years so far, so we’ll see how everyone does in the practice round,” Kester said. “We need the people playing that course the best to be in the lineup, so they’ll get to determine that on Thursday.”

The MAC Championships will tee off Friday and run three rounds through Sunday at Naperville Country Club.